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French 'art de vivre' gets a boost as restaurants and borders reopen

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People drink outdoors on a bar terrace in front of the Louvre museum in Paris, Thursday, May 20, 2021.
People drink outdoors on a bar terrace in front of the Louvre museum in Paris, Thursday, May 20, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Christophe Ena
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French people are from Wednesday allowed back into restaurants and bars while foreign travellers with a COVID passport can once more visit the country.

Wednesday marks the next phase in the easing of restrictions announced in late April by President Emmanuel Macron.

It is heavily dependent on the rollout of a health pass attesting the holder has either been vaccinated, has recently tested negative for the virus, or has recently recovered from it.

What are the changes in restrictions?

  • The nighttime curfew is pushed back by another two hours to 23:00 — it is meant to be fully lifted on June 30;
  • Cafés and restaurants can welcome customers indoors at 50% capacity with a maximum of 6 people per table. Terraces can be filled at 100% capacity, also with a maximum of six people per table;
  • Capacity at museums and other cultural venues including cinemas and theatres is increased with events of up to 5,000 people allowed although health passes are required for any event of more than 1,000 people;
  • Capacity at outdoor sporting events increased to 5,000 with health passes if over 1,000;
  • Large exhibitions and fairs can be held with a maximum of 5,000 people in attendance with health passes if over 1,000;

  • Outdoor physical activity, including contact sports, allowed with a maximum of 25 participants. Amateur competitions can also proceed with a maximum of 500 people;

  • Places of worship and partnership ceremonies, as well as marriages, can proceed at 50% capacity;

  • Funerals can be attended by up to 75 people;

  • Foreign tourists with health passes can enter the country.

What are the travel restrictions?

From today, France operates under a traffic-light system similar to the UK with countries either classed as green, amber or red depending on their epidemiological situation. The list will be updated on a regular basis and can be accessed here.

Green countries include the rest of the EU as well as Australia, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.

Travellers must have either been fully vaccinated with a jab approved by the European Medicines Agency — Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford University, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — or present a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours prior to travelling if unvaccinated.

Most other countries fall into the amber category including the US and UK and most of Asia and Africa.

To be let through the border, travellers must be either fully inoculated with an EMA-approved vaccine and present a negative PCR or antigen test taken over the previous 72 hours; or if they are unvaccinated, have an essential reason to visit in which case they will have to submit to a test prior to their departure and self-isolate for seven days upon arrival.

Countries with an "active circulation" of the virus are categorised as red. These include Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Turkey, and Uruguay.

All travellers from these countries — whether vaccinated or not — must justify an essential reason to visit, present a PCR or antigen test no older than 48 hours prior to their departure, and submit to an antigen test upon arrival. Vaccinated people then need to self-isolate for seven days while unvaccinated travellers must submit to a 10-day quarantine controlled by law enforcement officers.

What's the COVID situation in France?

France is one of the most heavily impacted countries in Europe with more than 110,000 lives lost to the pandemic.

The national seven-day incidence rate is currently at 68.7 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 364.6 cases per 100,000 population when the third national lockdown was announced on March 31. About a third of the country's metropolitan départements have an incidence rate below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants including some on the Mediterranean coast badly afflicted earlier this year.

An average of 6,100 people have tested positive for the virus daily over the past week. The number of hospitalisations has also dramatically fallen over the past two months with 394 COVID-19 patients admitted on Tuesday, down from a 2021 peak of more than 2,100 on April 12.

More than 28.2 million of the country's 67.1 million population have received at least one shot with 14.3 million fully vaccinated.