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Protesters occupy French theatres to demand an end to closure of cultural spaces

French protesters occupied three national theatres on Wednesday to demand an end to the ban on cultural activities, which has been in place since October under pandemic health restrictions.

Protesters occupy French theatres to demand an end to closure of cultural spaces
Protesters occupy the Odeon theatre in Paris. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

Theatres, cinemas, museums and other cultural spaces have been shut since France’s last full lockdown in October, and have remained closed despite most businesses reopening in December.

Pressure has been building for weeks and thousands marched in cities across France last Thursday to demand a reopening — with social distancing — of the cultural sector.

The Paris march ended with around 50 people forcing their way into the shuttered Odeon Theatre and refusing to leave.

Similar actions were seen on Tuesday at two other theatres — the Colline in eastern Paris and the National Theatre of Strasbourg.

University students also spent Monday night in the regional theatre of Pau in southern France.

Karine Huet, secretary general of the National Union of Musical Artists in France, said “this is a national movement”.

“Regional unions have responded and it’s starting to build. They are getting organised,” she told AFP from inside the Odeon on Tuesday.

Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot visited the Odeon on Saturday and vowed to continue talks, but the union response has been unequivocal.

“Occupy! Occupy! Occupy!” was the call on Tuesday from the culture section of the CGT union, adding that this was a direct follow-on from the “Yellow Vest” protests that rocked the country two years ago.

At the Colline Theatre, dozens of students were seen with signs reading: “Opening essential” and “Bachelot, if you don’t open, we’re coming to play at your house”.

A source from the theatre said some 30 arts students had been allowed to enter the theatre by its director, the celebrated theatre writer and director Wajdi Mouawad, who was in the middle of rehearsals when they arrived on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, students in Strasbourg described their protest as an “act of mobilisation aimed at showing the government the gravity of our situation and to improve the rights of freelancers hurt by the health crisis”, calling for similar occupations across France.

As well as a reopening of cultural spaces, the protesters want an extension of the tax exemption for freelancers (currently in place until August 2021), and better support for other seasonal and self-employed workers, as well as urgent efforts to address the financial and mental health crises faced by students amid the pandemic.

France has one of the world’s most generous support systems for artists, providing a living wage to all sorts of people working in the arts and media. But the system has been strained by the upheaval of the pandemic, and many have fallen through the cracks.

There is also consternation over some of the government’s decisions, such as keeping large museums shut while allowing small private galleries to reopen.

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COVID-19

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).

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