Closed for business in Paris. Picture: NUR PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES/SAMUEL BOIVIN
Closed for business in Paris. Picture: NUR PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES/SAMUEL BOIVIN

Paris — Two weeks before the scheduled end of France’s second coronavirus lockdown, signs are already mounting that the return to normal will be slow as the government seeks to avoid a resurgence of the pandemic during the holiday season.

Fans won’t be allowed to attend sporting events until the beginning of 2021, and even then the number of spectators in stadiums will be limited, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday in a video conference call with representatives from professional and amateur sports.

Bars and restaurants, meanwhile, will remain closed until mid-January as the government tries to tamp down a resurgent coronavirus, France Info radio reported.

The government closed non-essential businesses at the end of October as the number of virus cases jumped, with the aim of reopening shops on December 1 if health conditions permit. Prime minister Jean Castex made clear that didn’t apply to bars and restaurants, however, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said in an interview on France 2 television on Tuesday.

Government officials will review the situation for bars and restaurants in December, he said when asked about the France Info report of a January 15 reopening. “They’ll have an outlook in early December. For now, there’s no calendar set.”

Health minister Olivier Véran also said on BFM TV that bars and restaurants wouldn’t reopen in December. The finance ministry, contacted by Bloomberg News, said it won’t confirm the January 15 date reported by France Info.

The lockdown has angered owners of independent businesses such as bookstores, who complained that large stores that sell groceries often sell books, while e-commerce giant Amazon also remained in operation. Government officials urged small businesses to set up “click-and-collect” operations and, to try to level the playing field, they ordered larger retailers to close off aisles selling books and other non-essentials.

Now, with the number of new coronavirus cases declining, some shop owners are pushing the government to allow them to reopen on the weekend of Friday, November 27, which, in the US, is the Black Friday kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, a tradition that has been increasingly embraced in France.

Attal declined to say if the government would allow the earlier opening, adding that a decision would be taken next week.

“For now, the prime minister has announced that we’ve set a goal of December 1 to let them reopen if the health situation continues to improve,” he said. “There’s encouraging news, but it remains serious. We still have more patients in the hospital today than at the peak of the first wave.

“If there’s some very good news, the situation continues to accelerate in a positive manner, obviously we will do our best for shop owners to be able to work.”

Florists will be able to sell Christmas trees outside their shops beginning on Friday, agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on Tuesday in an interview with RMC radio. While florists are now allowed to sell flowers only if they’re ordered in advance, Denormandie said pre-orders won’t be necessary for Christmas trees.

Bloomberg

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