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Paris police bans alcohol along Seine river as crowds revel in new-found freedom

People gather along the banks of the Seine river in Paris, on May 11, 2020, the first day of France's easing of lockdown measures.
People gather along the banks of the Seine river in Paris, on May 11, 2020, the first day of France's easing of lockdown measures. © François Guillot, AFP

Police in the French capital declared a ban on alcoholic drinks on the banks of the Seine and the popular Canal Saint-Martin after crowds gathered there on Monday evening to enjoy their newly recovered freedom following eight weeks of lockdown. The Paris mayor has called for face masks to be made obligatory throughout the city.

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After a two-month freeze, Paris slowly emerged from its torpor as hairdressers, florists, nail salons and some other businesses reopened – but under mandatory social distancing requirements.

>> Parisians enjoy coffee, company and haircuts as lockdown lifted

Restaurants and bars – at the heart of France's proverbial joie de vivre – are still waiting to learn when they will be back in business and cafe life can resume under the French government’s phased-in lifting of restrictions it imposed to stem the country's coronavirus outbreak. 

Meanwhile, some Parisians couldn't resist the temptation of celebrating their release from lockdown, and conviviality was accompanied by wine or beer. As the sun set over the picturesque Canal Saint Martin, youths gathered for conversation, standing shoulder-to-shoulder or sitting knee-to-knee on the ground – until police moved in with a megaphone to disperse the crowd. 

The Paris police chief later issued a ban on consumption of alcoholic drinks along the banks of the Seine river and the canal, saying he “deplored” having to take action to ensure distancing on the first day of de-confinement. 

France was hit hard by Covid-19, recording more than 26,600 virus-related deaths as of Monday night. Authorities, trying to strike a balance between public health and boosting the economy, have said they will reassess the situation in three weeks, wary of a second wave.

Masks but no parks

The French government has split the country into red and green zones based on the number of infections recorded in different regions. Paris and its suburbs have been designated red because of the continuing threat from the virus, meaning parks and gardens remain shut to the public.

On Tuesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo reiterated her call for the city to be allowed to reopen its green spaces, calling them "indispensable" to the densely-populated capital. Hidalgo also said that face masks, which are currently compulsory in public transport but only recommended elsewhere, should be made mandatory throughout the city.

France's health minister was quick to respond, stating that parks and gardens would have to remain shut to limit the risk of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

"It's not over. The virus continues to circulate,” Olivier Véran told reporters during a visit to Limeil-Brevannes in the Paris region. The minister argued that the scenes witnessed along the canal and the Seine on Monday showed how difficult it is to ensure people comply with a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Véran added: "No, we will not reopen the parks and gardens in Paris, in Ile-de-France [the Paris region], and in regions that are classified as red because it can be extremely tempting with the sun that we have today for people to regroup too much and not respect the 10-people limit as well as social distancing.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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