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HEALTH

France urges caution as first post-lockdown weekend beckons

French officials called Friday for self-restraint as the country prepares for its first weekend since the coronavirus lockdown was eased, warning that police would break up any large gatherings of people taking too much advantage of newfound freedoms.

France urges caution as first post-lockdown weekend beckons
Photo: AFP

Scenes of packed squares and riverbanks in Paris and other cities this week have the authorities worried that social-distancing diligence will fade in the spring sunshine forecast for much of the country.

The government is walking a fine line, hoping to avert a new surge in COVID-19 cases even as it cautiously reopens some businesses and lets people now travel within 100 kilometres of their homes without requiring a justification.

Since the lockdown was eased Monday, “the response has globally been positive,” government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told France 2 television.

“But significant efforts must still be made” ahead of the summer tourism season, she said, when cooped-up families will be looking to escape to countryside retreats or beaches.

Deputy interior ministry Laurent Nunez  called Thursday for “civic-mindedness” after the government conceded that its limit on public gatherings to 10 people or less could not be enforced in private homes.

“It's a matter of common sense,” he said. “Everyone needs to be responsible, to decide if you want to be part of the chain of transmission for this virus. On our side, we are trying to break it at all costs.”

Local officials have reopened large stretches of beaches along the Atlantic coast, a “green” zone where the virus threat remains contained for now, but only strolling and swimming will be allowed – no sunbathing, and no crowds.

But parks in Paris, a hard-hit “red” along with large parts of northeastern France, will remain closed, despite a plea from a doctors' union to grant Mayor Anne Hidalgo's request to make them available to residents in search of fresh air.

“Parisians, especially the less privileged living in the densest areas, haven't had room to breathe during the lockdown and cannot take it any longer,” the CSMF union said.

The government has refused, and this week ordered a ban on alcohol consumption alongside the Seine and the city's canals in a bid to dissuade merrymakers.

READ ALSO: Discover France's final map of red and green zones for easing lockdown


Call of the wild

Officials are also urging people to remain vigilant when venturing into forests, where rangers are bracing for a wave of hikers and bikers.

“We'll have to issue some reminders,” including the need for face masks when encountering other users, said Arnaud Péricard, mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a Paris suburb that serves as a gateway to a popular neighbouring forest.

“I'm trusting that people will behave responsibly,” he told AFP this week.

READ ALSO How likely is a second wave of coronavirus cases in France?

But horseback patrols will also be deployed across the 39 forests surrounding the French capital to ensure social distancing, regional authorities said.

Several smaller museums and monuments also began reopening this week, hoping to cater to visitors eager for a taste of culture after two months of strict stay-at-home orders.

But space will be limited: The majestic Chartres cathedral, which falls within the permitted 100-kilometre radius of Paris, is allowing just 10 people at a time, for 20 minutes maximum.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

Property taxes, food and tunnels: 6 essential articles on life in France

From tax hikes to the price of food, air conditioning and the unexpected things that lurk beneath the streets of Paris, here are 6 essential articles for life in France.

Property taxes, food and tunnels: 6 essential articles on life in France

As the inhabitants of Paris, one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet.

Paris has a huge network of underground spaces that hide some very unexpected things (as well as the entirely prosaci Metro).

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

From cheese and garlic to berets and sex, taxes and striking, France is heavily loaded with cultural stereotypes – and most of them are only partly accurate.

This is us, busting more myths.

Myth-busting: Are these 12 clichés about France actually true?

France warned that companies might have to reduce energy this winter as Russian continues to reduce its gas supplies to Europe.

The government has already begun work on an energy-saving plan, with more measures to come in September.

And it’s not the only country thinking along these lines – from limits to heating and air conditioning to turning off the lights and taking off ties, here’s how countries around Europe are cutting their energy usage.

Air-con, lights and ties: How countries around Europe hope to avoid blackouts this winter

Although householders in France are relatively fortunate when it comes to rising bills, there is one notable exception.

Towns and villages across France have been raising property tax rates for second-home owners – with many areas voting for the maximum 60 percent increase.

Tax hikes of up to 60% for French second home owners

As we’ve stumbled onto money matters, let’s consider the cost of living. France has many temptations to woo visitors and foreign residents: its scenery, history, the lifestyle, the food and the drink.

While some things here are more expensive than elsewhere – we’re looking at you, second-hand car dealers – and the taxes are notoriously high, what about the cost of groceries and wine? How do they compare? We do something that looks a lot like crunching the numbers…

How expensive is food and drink in France?

But, enough of all that seriousness. It’s silly season, after all. Prominent French scientist Etienne Klein has had to apologise for claiming this was the latest astonishing picture taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, when it was – in fact …

French astronomer apologises for ‘stellar’ photo that was really . . . chorizo

Some people take things far too seriously.

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