Paris venues prepare for social festive season despite Omicron

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  • Jean Castex
    Prime Minister of France

The French government announced new restrictions yesterday in light of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. While some events have been cancelled, many venues in Paris are still preparing for year-end festivities.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday asked mayors to cancel traditional New Year’s Eve firework displays and festivities, and urged people to take self-tests before attending get-togethers over the Christmas period.

The Paris town hall confirmed the cancellation of its public parties the following day, amid a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections in France with cases averaging nearly 50,000 per day in the past week. Fears of the highly contagious Omicron variant are also soaring, as the prime minister announced that France would change its health pass into a vaccination pass, meaning that from January it can only be used by people who are fully vaccinated.

However, studies suggest that there is still an appetite for in-person events this festive season.

Figures from government study CoviPrev indicate that while adherence to all barrier measures has gone up among people in France in the past month, social restrictions are the least likely to be respected. While 70% of people said at the beginning of December they now always wear a mask in public places, only 31% planned to avoid in-person gatherings with loved ones outside of their household.

And, unlike last year when a near-lockdown was imposed, many venues will stay open over the festive period in 2021.

‘Things are looking good’

Jazz bar Café Laurent, in Paris’s 6th arrondissement (district), plans to host its annual New Year’s Eve concert as usual. Tickets cannot be reserved in advance but a staff member told FRANCE 24: “I think a lot of people will come, I’ve worked here for eight years and there’s always a lot of people for New Year.”

The bar, which is attached to a hotel in the touristy Saint Germain neighbourhood, is expecting even more attendees than usual due to a rise in local customers in recent months.

“If between now and New Year’s Eve there are new health rules put in place, that could have an unfortunate effect on the concert. But for now everything can go ahead as expected and we’re crossing our fingers that nothing changes.”

“With the new announcements yesterday evening, things are looking good,” he said.

The Moulin Rouge, in the 18th arrondissement in northeast Paris, is also expecting a full house for its New Year’s celebrations. “We’ve been fully booked for a while, and we haven’t had any cancellations,” a spokesperson told FRANCE 24. The only difference this year is that the final hour of the evening with a DJ after the cabaret show has been cancelled, as the audience is not allowed to dance due to Covid restrictions.

Reservations have poured in over the Christmas period, with demand growing to the extent that the famous cabaret is now running seven days a week, up from four since September.

In the affluent 6th arrondissement (district), Hotel Lutetia is also expecting a lot of customers for festive meals in its restaurant on December 24 and 25. A staff member told FRANCE 24, “For the moment the health rules haven’t changed. There’s just the health pass and we are used to that now and it’s not complicated to manage.”

‘People came, and they loved it’

Demand for in-person events has also been high at Saint Michael’s Church in Paris, especially as many more formal social gatherings have been cancelled.

Although the French government has not set a hard limit on gatherings over the festive season this year, the prime minister called for reductions and restraint in a speech on December 10. “Until the holidays we need to take our foot off the gas, stop, protect ourselves and protect our ability to enjoy Christmas as well,” Castex said.

Work Christmas parties were not the only casualties of this guidance. Jonathan Clark, Chaplain at Saint Michael’s Church in Paris, told FRANCE 24: “We’ve had to cancel our social events and they’re important to people, particularly the lonely, so it's really hard.”

Consequently, demand for in-person services over the festive season has been high, to the extent that the church had to introduce advance reservation for its carol services. “They’re our most popular services and we completely sold out. People came and they loved it. People who don't normally come to church came, and it was great.”

By now safety protocols have become a habit. “We wear masks the whole time. We distance, we separate groups of people, we halve the number of people at a service, and we have to ventilate so we keep doors open.”

Along with fans running to keep air circulating, this typically means wearing coats during the service to keep warm. But Clark says staff are putting all of their energy into the in-person services, to make sure that people can still come to church and find some joy in community over the festive season this year. “The services are running as normal, because for some people, it's the only social contact they're going to get to come to church and see some people.”

“And we can sing behind masks. Last year we couldn't sing – that was much harder.”

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