'Tears of joy': Eiffel Tower opens after 104-day virus lockdown

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Paris (AFP)

Tourists and Parisians ready for a workout gathered at the Eiffel Tower on Thursday as the iron monument reopened after its longest closure since World War II, a highly symbolic move as France emerges from its coronavirus lockdown.

Journalists from around the world outnumbered about 50 people, mainly French, who began the steep climb by stairs to the first two levels, as elevators and the top observation deck will remain closed because of social distancing concerns.

"I'm tearing up, but they're tears of joy. It's an emotional moment after these difficult months," said Therese, visiting from the southern French city of Perpignan.

"I'm going to climb, but slowly," said the 60-year-old, wearing the obligatory face mask. "And if I don't make it, it's no big deal!"

"It's very special to be here," said Manuel Mehl, who came "spontaneously" from Pfaffenhofen in Germany with his American wife Shanique Chintsanya.

Patrick Branco Ruivo, director general of the site's operating company SETE, said the top would reopen on July 15, though just eight people will be allowed into the elevators at a time, instead of the usual 45.

The 104-day closure cost the company 27 million euros ($30 million) in lost sales, he said, adding that visitor numbers will be tightly limited for now.

The Eiffel Tower usually receives about seven million visitors per year, some three-quarters from abroad.

The absence of crowds was no problem for Iris Wang, a 25-year-old from China. "It's more peaceful and quiet," she told AFP.

Alex, 15, visiting with his mother from the Netherlands, said: "It's my first time in Paris and it's really great to be here -- we saw the Eiffel Tower was opening today so we thought we should come."

- 'Now is the time!' -

Ground markings were made to enforce social distancing, and SETE has promised "daily cleaning and disinfection of public spaces at the tower."

France is one of the world's most visited countries, and its tourism industry has taken a hard hit under the lockdown to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, with hotels, restaurants, museums and theatres closed for three months.

France lifted restrictions at European borders on June 15, and the tourism industry hopes that foreign visitors will start pouring in again as the summer season kicks off.

At the Eiffel Tower, ticket prices for children have been halved for July and August.

"Parisians and French, now is the time to come to the Eiffel Tower, you won't have to stand in line!" Branco Ruivo said.

While some of the tower's eateries have reopened, the Michelin-starred Jules Verne, which has its own elevator to a dining room perched 125 metres (410 feet) above the ground, will open on June 30.