People have drinks on a bar's terrasse in Paris on September 26, 2020. (AFP/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)
Paris restaurants will be allowed to stay open -- but under tightened restrictions -- when the city is placed on maximum coronavirus alert in the face of alarming COVID-19 infection numbers, the prime minister's office announced Sunday.
However bars and cafes in Paris and its environs appear certain to close under the new measures, set to last at least 15 days.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the capital's police chief Didier Lallement will spell out the conditions on Monday.
Health Minister Olivier Veran announced last week that only improved COVID-19 infection rates could prevent "total closures" of the city's trademark cafes and bars.
France reported nearly 17,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing.
Figures from the regional health agency ARS show new coronavirus cases remaining above 250 per 100,000 people in Paris.
That threshold triggers the maximum alert protocol, which has already hit the southern cities Aix-en-Provence and Marseille and their surroundings, as well as the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe.
Coronavirus patients are now taking up more than 30 percent of the intensive care beds in the Paris region.
"There is no justification for denial," said Paris region health director Aurelien Rousseau on Sunday. "The numbers are what they are, and they are weighing heavily."
'We're French, we love to drink'
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged that the closure of bars and cafes would be "tough" for everyone concerned.
"We are French, we love to drink, to eat, to live, to smile and to kiss each other," he told broadcasters LCI and Europe 1 on Sunday.
"But we're also doing this because the people want us to," he added.
BFM television on Sunday published a poll saying that 61 percent of people living in Paris and its suburbs were in favor of a complete closure of bars, currently authorized to remain open until 10:00 pm.
Mayor Hidalgo told reporters on Sunday: "It's not a done deal, there is still work being done, we're still talking". But she also conceded that the health situation was "very serious".
The government has said it will primarily target establishments that "serve alcoholic drinks without food".
Restaurants have suggested voluntary restrictions such as registering the home addresses of their guests and limiting the number of people at each table.
Other large French cities including Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Toulouse are also hovering near the maximum alert threshold and similar measures to those in the capital could be in store for them, too.
Employer organization UMIH, which represents cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants, brasseries and discos, has warned that around 33,000 establishments are facing bankruptcy because of virus restrictions, with up to 250,000 staff facing unemployment.
"We're happy for the restaurants (but) extremely alarmed for the bars that will be closed for two weeks," UMIH's Paris region president Franck Delvau told AFP.
Most insurers would be unwilling to pay compensation for loss of revenue, he added.
The government has said it will take every precaution necessary to avoid a new state of emergency that would require a generalized lockdown like the one imposed at the height of the outbreak, from mid-March to mid-May.
More than 32,000 people have died from COVID-19 in France with another 49 fatalities on Saturday.
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