Bars and cafes were shuttered in Paris on Tuesday for two weeks under new measures to fight the rapid spread of the epidemic, although restaurants have been allowed to remain open.
With the rate of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths accelerating months after the lifting of a nationwide lockdown, new rules on social distancing entered into force on Tuesday.
"These are braking measures because the epidemic is moving too fast," Paris police chief Didier Lallement told journalists on Monday. "From tomorrow, all bars will be closed."
Bars and cafes have continued to draw large crowds often flouting physical distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Their closure comes as no surprise, says FRANCE 24's Chris Moore, reporting from Paris city hall.
"Anyone who has visited the French capital in recent weeks will have noticed that social distancing rules have not been universally adhered to," Moore said.
In the city's universities, classrooms and lecture auditoriums will be limited to 50 percent capacity, Moore added, "reflecting the fact that (...) it is the younger part of the population that has been driving this resurgence in the epidemic."
Record of 17,000 new cases
Health Minister Olivier Véran announced last week that only improved Covid-19 infection rates could prevent closure of the capital city's trademark bars and cafes.
But France reported nearly 17,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing. For Paris, the number was about 3,500 new cases every day – with a high of nearly 6,000 recorded last Monday, said Aurelien Rousseau, director of the ARS regional health agency.
Rousseau said Paris has crossed three thresholds that require its reclassification as a region on maximum alert: the general rate of virus prevalence, its spread among older people at higher risk of serious illness and the number of intensive care hospital beds taken up by coronavirus patients – now at 36 percent.
He said there were 203 active coronavirus "clusters" in the Paris Ile-de-France region.
Rousseau said about 40 percent of cluster cases originated in schools and universities, 26 percent in the workplace, and 10 percent from private gatherings – a number that has doubled since last month.
To this end, he urged inhabitants of Paris and its suburbs to go back to working from home as much as possible.
Lallement said restaurants would be allowed to remain open provided they met stricter new conditions.
These include making sanitising hand gel available at all dining tables, limiting patrons to six a table with at least a metre (3.3 feet) between seats, and allowing patrons to remove their masks only for eating.
"We are constantly adapting to the reality of this epidemic, the reality of the virus, and we must continually find a balance between the health of our fellow citizens and the reality and necessity of economic and social life," Lallement said.
While acknowledging the considerable social and economic impact of the new restrictions, Professor Antoine Flahault, an epidemiologist at the University of Geneva, said the measures were “crucial” to hopes of slowing down the rise in infections.
“We cannot afford to have hospitals stretched beyond capacity and unable to treat both Covid-19 and other patients,” Flahault told FRANCE 24. He added that targeted measures such as the ones imposed in Paris, and previously in Marseille, were “no less effective” than nationwide lockdowns in curbing the spread of the virus.
‘Work from home as much as possible’
Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne in a tweet also urged employers and workers in Paris and other zones on maximum alert "to work from home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus".
Among other restrictions unveiled on Monday, Lallement said pools and gyms in Paris would remain off-limits except for school activities, public gatherings would be limited to 10 people, and there would be a ceiling of 1,000 people on open air stadiums for sporting or cultural events.
Visits to people in old-age homes may continue but only by appointment and limited to two visitors at a time.
Alcohol sales after 10 pm will remain prohibited, as will weddings and other parties in reception halls, and all expos or conferences held under large tents.
Clients will be limited to one per four square metres in shopping malls.
The measures will be reviewed at the end of the 15-day period, on October 19.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)