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EXPLAINED: The rules for France’s reopened cafés, bars, restaurants, shops, cinemas and museums

The French have been waiting impatiently for Wednesday, May 19th, 2021, to arrive since the government announced it would be the day that the country took its second step out of its latest Covid-19 lockdown.

EXPLAINED: The rules for France's reopened cafés, bars, restaurants, shops, cinemas and museums
Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP

With more than 21million people now having received a first dose of vaccine, and another nine million having both doses, May 19th is the day cafe terraces can open again for the first time in six months, along with museums, theatres, cinemas and performance venues

But strict health measures remain in place. Here, then, is an overview of the current regulations, published in a decree in the Journal Officiel, for phase two of France’s deconfinement.

All venues must respect the nightly curfew, though the start time has moved back from 7pm to 9pm. 

Bars, cafés and restaurants

The partial reopening of bars, cafés and restaurants, which have been closed since October, has been eagerly awaited in France – a nation noted for its café culture.

This return to the beginnings of normal life was so newsworthy that most newspapers carried it on their front pages – and President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex were just two of the many politicians taking a morning photo opportunity at a Paris café.


Venues remain closed indoors, it is only the terraces and outdoor spaces that have reopened.

Outside areas must operate at no more than 50 percent normal capacity. Smaller terraces, with fewer than 10 tables, can operate at greater than 50 percent capacity, providing table numbers are respected and partitions are placed between tables.

No more than six customers at a single table can be served.

The consumption of food and drink while standing is prohibited, as is ordering at the bar.

Staff at venues can collect customers’ contact details for contact tracing purposes if necessary, although this is not compulsory and the ‘health passport’ app will not be needed to enter cafes, bars or restaurants.

Cinemas, theatres and concert venues

Queues quickly formed outside those venues that opened early on Wednesday in response to demand.


Capacity is limited to 35 percent, up to a maximum of 800 people, while there must be two free seats between customers or groups of customers – up to a maximum of six – who arrive together.

The consumption of food and drink remains prohibited.

Concert venues can also reopen, but the audience must be seated, and capacity is limited to 35 percent, up to a maximum of 1,000 people.  

Museums and libraries

Museums, libraries and media centres will have to limit the number of visitors, as they are obliged to allow an area of 8 sq m per person. One in two seats can be occupied.

Shops, covered markets

Non-essential shops, closed since April 3rd, reopen with limits on customer numbers.

The same 8 sq m per person measure also applies to stores and shopping centres, as well as covered markets.

Small shops, with a sales area of ​​less than 8m 2 will only be able to accommodate one customer at a time. A manual or automatic counter is required for businesses over 400m 2.

On the street

Gatherings of more than 10 people on public roads are prohibited, except for guided tours. This is a increase on the previous maximum of six.

Sports stadiums

Fans will be allowed into sports arenas for the first time since October, with a limit of 800 people at indoor venues and 1,000 spectators outdoors.

Sports halls and indoor swimming pools are reopening for certain users – notably schoolchildren and high-level athletes.

Amateur sports also returns after a long lay-off. Adults can return to outdoor non-contact training in small groups of no more than 10 people.


It has been a difficult period for students at France’s universities, who have been trying to study at a distance and attend lectures remotely.

But, from Wednesday they can return to lecture theatres – up to a capacity of 50 percent, and with reinforced health protocols in place until the start of the new academic year. 

The government hopes classes can reopen for full face-to-face learning in September.


Places of worship are open – but only one in three seats can be occupied, and rows must be staggered. Speaking of which…

Weddings and funerals

Couples tying the knot can invite friends and family to celebrate the occasion – up to 35 percent of the venue’s indoor and outdoor capacity (including any marquees).

Up to 50 mourners can now attend a funeral. The previous limit was 30.

What’s next

The next key date is June 9th – by which time the government hopes that nearly 30 million people will have received one vaccine dose.

Then, if the health situation allows, the start of the nightly curfew will be moved back another two hours, to 11pm; cafés and restaurants will be allowed to open inside rooms; and sports halls can reopen fully.

IN DETAIL France’s four-step plan for reopening

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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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.