Cafés, shops, gyms and cinemas – what will be France’s timetable for reopening?

Cafés, shops, gyms and cinemas - what will be France's timetable for reopening?
Coffee at a café may be possible again in May. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP
With president Emmanuel Macron due to present the long-awaited plan for reopening on Friday, here's what we know so far.

The whole of France has been under ‘partial lockdown’ since April 3rd, with non-essential shops closed and a 10km limit on travel.

Some dates or the reopening have already been confirmed while others are yet to be announced.

Here’s what we know about the plans:

April 26th

Primary schools and crèches reopened as planned after the rescheduled Easter break.

May 3rd

Secondary and high schools (collèges and lycées) will have a further week of distance learning and then restart in-person teaching from Monday, May 3rd.

The 10km limit on travel will be scrapped from May 3rd and there will be no more need for attestations, prime minister Jean Castex announced. Travel throughout France for any reason will be allowed, which will enable foreign tourists to come again.

Mid May

This is the date when the reopening is set to begin, with café and bar terraces set to be among the first phases of the plan.

However this seems likely to be done on a regional basis, with areas with low Covid rates reopening first.

“I don’t think we will be able to open restaurants in, say, late May or in June, in départments where the virus is circulating quickly,” Macron told journalists on Monday.

“But in others, where [the circulation] has fallen a lot, I think we’ll have to open them.”

So people living in Paris and north-east France probably shouldn’t get too excited about drinking rosé or beers en terrasse just yet.

MAP: Where in France has the lowest Covid rates

The government is also under pressure from the owners of businesses deemed non-essential to allow them to reopen as early as possible – protests have included posting women’s underwear to Prime Minister Jean Castex.

According to French media Le Point, if the situation allows, the government’s plan is to allow café terraces in areas with low rates to begin to reopen from Monday, May 17th. Under the plan, allowing customers into the interior of cafés and restaurants is provisionally set for between June 1st and June 15th, again on a regional basis.

Cultural venues such as museums and tourist sites are also among those being talked about in the first phase of reopening.

President Macron will participate in a test concert in Paris set to take place on May 29th, according Le Journal Du Dimanche. Five thousand masked people will listen to the group Indochine play in Accor Arena, in an experiment that will be closely monitored by health authorities. All participants will have to get tested before the event.

Meanwhile culture minister Roselyne Bachelot has repeatedly said that monuments, castles, abbeys and other heritage buildings would be among the first venues to reopen, suggesting a date as early as May 15th. 

UPDATED: How to book an appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine in France

June

Possible changes to the curfew? Macron apparently told a group of local mayors on a video meeting that he wants to continue the curfew until ‘at least June’.

How will it happen?

In March, organisations representing hotel and restaurant professionals said in a statement that they were working with the Ministry of the Economy to reopen in three stages. 

The first phase would allow customers to have breakfast in the dining room, while the second would see terraces as well as cafés and restaurants reopening at 50 percent capacity. The third phase would be a “complete opening of the establishments, without limits, but always respecting the reinforced sanitary protocol”.

It is likely that cafés and bars will see similar restrictions to those that were in place last summer – restrictions on customer numbers, no bar service, masks compulsory unless seated etc.

The other main plank is the reopening strategy is vaccination – 20 million people in France will have received the anti-Covid vaccine by mid-May if government targets are achieved, with 30 million getting the jab by the summer.

What about this summer?

Government spokesman Attal told BFMTV: “Our wish is that the French can spend as normal a summer as possible.”

The summer of 2020 saw most things reopening, with cafés and restaurants at first only opening terraces before fully reopening, and all types of travel allowed before the country entered its second lockdown on October 29th. All bars, cafés, restaurants, gyms, cultural spaces and tourist sites have been closed since October.

The Scientific Council, which advises the French government on its Covid-19 policies, has sounded a note of caution about reopening too quickly, given that case numbers are still very high. 

“The intensity and nature of the control measures implemented over the next two months are a key element in anticipating the state of the pandemic in June 2021,” the body said in a statement. 

It noted that last summer, new daily cases of Covid-19 were averaging below 500, but soared as new variants arrived in France. 

“It would be wrong to think that the state of the epidemic in June 2021 will necessarily be identical to what it was in June 2020,” it warned.

The development of the EU vaccine passport scheme also means that at least some international tourism into France will be possible this summer.


Member comments

  1. So my teenagers go back to Lycée on the 3rd May. Then on Wednesday the 12th they have a long weekend for Ascension.
    Loads of teens will be travelling on the trains (our teens 700 km) on the 2nd and then again on the 12th.
    Seems like a great way to pass the virus. Another week of distance learning wouldn’t hurt.
    Is it because M. Macron and his government do not have children and therefore has no idea about this great way of spreading the virus?

  2. Greetings from Florida, a state where people are free and businesses thrive…. As an expat, I feel sorry for Europeans. The areas in trouble do not have hospital infrastructure to handle all of this… Vaccines work well, as we are finding, especially for the older and most vulnerable. Ultimately, I feel that people make better choices than big government. A year out, Florida and California have the exact same case numbers and deaths…. California was heavily controlled and looks like Europe. Depends on the views and beliefs of state governors over here. In America, people are moving from heavily restricted states to free states in droves… Mental and financial health of citizens needs more weight when making rules… IMHO

    1. “A year out, Florida and California have the exact same case numbers and deaths”

      How can you tell though really, given that Florida has been fudging the numbers since the beginning and literally fired the data scientist in charge of compiling the numbers and raided her house to grab her computers and data?

    2. Chipdip Glad you are “free” and “thriving” but please spare us the Trumpian commentary. Doesn’t fly on this side of the pond.
      Sorry to break it to you but Florida is far from being a model most Europeans look to.
      Thank God we don’t have people like Ron De Santis in charge of our affairs.
      Keep Ron and keep Florida.

  3. I have a house in Burgundy that I hope to visit this summer and hope it will be possible at the end of June.

    1. Good point, but we have to understand this data in perspective. A reliable calculation of the absolute risk reduction in a clinical trial is not possible, since it will require a different type of test where we purposefully inject people with the virus. Remember that most other clinical trials take the same method, yielding results worse than the COVID-19 vaccine, yet we reliably use them.

      The relative risk reduction remains unchanged regardless of the situation of the population (number of population, risk factors amongst those populations, the prevalence of virus, etc.) This means in conditions of greater risk, the absolute risk reduction will be the greatest. Therefore, we should be able to expect a greater ARR in our current dire condition. Furthermore, even if absolute risk reduction turns out to be less than 1%, when that applies to the entirety of the American population, that translates to 2.5 million people being infected if not vaccinated, whereas only 131 thousand if vaccinated. That is a huge difference.

      To give a real life example, the seasonal flu vaccine is between 40% and 60% effective (it varies from year to year, depending on that year’s vaccine and flu strains), but it still prevented an estimated 7.5 million cases of the flu in the U.S. during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the CDC).

  4. “Our wish is that the French can spend as normal a summer as possible.”

    The old joke about the definition of insanity being “doing the same things the same way and expecting different results” applies here. They tried to have “as normal a summer as possible” last year and look what happened. So they want things to start opening by mid-may, when less than 50% of the population will have been been offered the vaccine much less taken the first dose, and it’s also the 50% of the population who are less likely to go to the terraces/bars. So, you’ll end up with the terraces and bars packed with non-vaccinated people, just like last year, and we know already how well that went.

    1. We didn’t have the vaccine last year, and what happened all of last number is that case numbers stayed pretty low, with warm weather and everyone being outside. They are not going to open up bars mid-May as you are saying, they say cafe terraces (with likely strict protocols at first). And where the virus is circulating the least to start. I say it’s likely bars won’t open again until mid-June (when 60% of adults should have been vaccinated). And we’re already seeing results elsewhere that one dose of the mRNA or AZ vaccines offer a good amount of protection to start- better than what people had last year (nothing).

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