What changes in France on Wednesday as phase 2 of reopening begins?

Wednesday marks the second stage in France's phased reopening process, with big changes including the return of café terraces and a relaxation of the curfew.

What changes in France on Wednesday as phase 2 of reopening begins?
Cafés are preparing to reopen. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

After the end of domestic travel restrictions and the scrapping of the attestation for daytime trips on May 3rd, Wednesday, May 19th marks the second phase of France’s déconfinement (reopening). Here’s what changes

Bars, cafés and restaurants are allowed to reopen their outdoor areas only. This is probably the most exciting change for many people following the complete closure of all eating and drinking establishments (apart from takeout) since October. There will still be rules in place, however, including a maximum of six people per table. Also, unfortunately the weather forecast is pretty bad.

Curfew moves back two hours to 9pm. Anyone out between 9pm and 6am will still need both an essential reason and an attestation.

READ ALSO How France’s curfew will work this summer

All shops can reopen. Shops classed as non-essential have been closed across the country since April 3rd but these can now all reopen, albeit with strict limits on the number of customers allowed per square metre, so expect queues outside popular small stores.

Museums, cinemas, theatres and other cultural spaces are also allowed to reopen, again with strict limits on the number of people allowed per square metre. Most museums and tourist sites are operating on a pre-booked ticket only basis, so check what the rule is before you visit.

Outdoor sporting activities will again be allowed (also on the condition that they respect specific health rules). Sports stadiums can reopen with a limit of 800 spectators in indoor spaces and 1,000 in outdoor venues.

Gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in public spaces (up from six currently). There is no actual rule on gatherings in indoor private spaces such as homes, but the guidance is to keep groups limited to six adults.

Spas can also reopen for cures thermales – spa treatments prescribed by a doctor (yes, that is a thing in France and sometimes the State will even pay for it) but not for the general public.

IN DETAIL France’s calendar for reopening after lockdown

And what stays the same:

Indoor gyms remain closed unless you have been prescribed exercise by a doctor.

Working from home continues to be the rule.

Tourists from most non-EU countries (with the exception of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, Japan and Singapore) remain barred.

Mask rules remain in place, making masks compulsory for all indoor public spaces and in the streets in many of France’s larger towns and cities. Failure to wear a mask – covering your nose and mouth – in a designated space can net you a €135 fine.

The ‘health passport‘ allowing vaccinated people to prove their status for travel is not expected to be in use until June, so for the moment even fully-vaccinated travellers have to follow the rules on testing and quarantine.

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Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test


The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.