Macron vows help to keep French restaurants, hotels afloat

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Paris (AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday vowed measures to keep afloat France's hotel and restaurant sector, one of the mainstays of the economy but also the French way-of-life that is being battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Macron hosted a video conference meeting from the Elysee palace of hospitality sector representatives and cabinet ministers, with the industry in a crisis which will not end even when France begins to emerge from its lockdown from May 11.

Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said a decision will be taken at the end of May over when French cafes, bars and restaurants can open again, after some reports said this could be allowed from June 15.

The hospitality sector -- which employs one million people in France -- wants to see a tax exemption for 2020, cancellation of rents for six months and at least a partial covering by the state of operating losses.

"The virus does not like the French way-of-life because it is spread mainly by human contact," said Macron, referring to the French love for gathering in bustling cafes and restaurants at all moments of the day.

He said the sector already had to work with the government on how the reopening phase would take place.

Those taking part in the meeting included industry representatives, commercial bosses like hotels giant Accor chief executive Sebastien Bazin as well as celebrity French chefs including Philippe Etchebest, Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Helene Darroze and Michel Sarran.

"What is at stake is ensuring the survival of all the establishments, from the creperie to the three (Michelin) stars (restaurants)," Etchebest, a TV personality who presides over the Hostellerie de Plaisance outside Bordeaux, told AFP.

Le Maire vowed after the meeting that the sector would get increased support but would only know at the end of next month when reopenings could start.

He promised a doubling of aid for establishments in difficulty and also the expanding of access to a solidarity fund.

"It is very hard financially" for those affected, said Le Maire. "It is a psychological shock that you cannot under-estimate for the 246,000 restaurant establishments in France."

"We will be there at the moment they open and in the months to come," he added.

France is buzzing with speculation over how lockdown measures can be eased from May 11, as indications grow that the epidemic is finally beginning to slow. But the details over how this may take shape have far been sketchy.