Paris and Marseille hit out at new virus restrictions
Officials in Paris and Marseille reacted angrily Thursday after the national government announced tighter restrictions to curb a flare-up of coronavirus cases, in particular for restaurants and bars already hammered by a two-month lockdown last spring.
Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Wednesday that bars, restaurants and gyms in Marseille will shutter from Saturday, while eating and drinking establishments in Paris and 10 other cities will close at 10:00 pm starting Monday.
Marseille was put on "maximum alert", while Paris was at "elevated alert" -- the second tier on a new sliding scale system of infection control measures.
The Mediterranean port city objected that it was not consulted ahead of time, and insisted that steps taken locally have started bearing fruit in braking the virus outbreak.
Under the new measures, public establishments such as theatres, museums or cinemas in Marseille will also have to close unless they have strict virus barrier measures in place.
The city asked for a 10-day reprieve to show its own measures were working.
"Once again our territory is being sanctioned, punished, singled out," Marseille's deputy mayor Benoit Payan told reporters.
For her part, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she had lodged a formal protest.
Apart from restricted bar and restaurant hours starting Monday, Paris will also see gyms and other indoor sports facilities closed.
"I do not think that the closure of bars after 10:00 pm is a pertinent measure," Hidalgo told France 3.
"It is hard to understand: how will it prevent the spread of the virus? How will the fact that we can no longer exercise help us, while sport is an important part of keeping us healthy with strong immune systems?" she asked.
"How can you understand an easing of health protocols in schools on one hand, and on the other we have to close bars at 10:00 pm?"
Veran's announcement came as the public health agency reported 13,072 new cases in 24 hours countrywide -- a new daily record since a March-to-May lockdown was lifted.
Over the same period, there were 783 hospital admissions for coronavirus, and 130 new patients in intensive care.
'Responsibility' gets precedence
Payan insisted "the Marseillais are adapting, restricting themselves" under local measures to curb infection which he said had "begun to bear fruit."
But Veran told a Senate committee on Thursday morning that political agreement was not necessary in such extraordinary circumstances. "At some point the principle of responsibility must take precedence," he said.
Along with Paris, eleven metropolitan areas also including Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon and Nice are now in a state of "elevated alert."
Public gatherings in these places will be limited to ten people, and large sporting events or concerts to 1,000.
Franck Trouet of the GNI hotel and restaurant employers' union denounced the new measures as "counterproductive".
"By closing our establishments at 10:00 pm we are pushing our customers to party elsewhere: the beaches and banks of rivers while the weather is still nice, and after that to private apartments," he said.
Sixty-nine of France's 101 departments are now on coronavirus alert, and Veran said similar restrictions could follow for other cities and towns.
France already obliges people to wear masks in public places -- indoors countrywide, as well as outdoors in hard-hit areas, including Paris.
But there are concerns as people amass in public transport to get to work, while others flout advice to keep a safe social distance to gather in large groups, often maskless, at bars and cafes.