Paris shuts bars to brake Covid-19 spread

Paris (AFP) –


Bars and cafes in Paris, placed on maximum coronavirus alert Monday, will be shuttered for two weeks under new measures to brake rapid epidemic spread, officials said.

With the rate of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths accelerating months after the lifting of a nationwide lockdown, new rules to enforce social distancing will enter into force starting Tuesday.

"These are braking measures because the epidemic is moving too fast," Paris police chief Didier Lallement told journalists.

"From tomorrow, all bars will be closed."

Health Minister Olivier Veran announced last week that only improved Covid-19 infection rates could prevent closure of the capital city's trademark bars and cafes.

But France reported nearly 17,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing.

For Paris, the number was about 3,500 new cases every day -- with a high of nearly 6,000 recorded last Monday, said Aurelien Rousseau, director of the ARS regional health agency.

Bars in Paris have continued to draw large crowds of people often flouting physical distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, and are a major concern along with congested public transport as contamination hotspots.

Rousseau said about 40 percent of cluster cases originated in schools and universities, 26 percent in the workplace, and ten percent from private gatherings -- a number that has doubled since last month.

To this end, he urged inhabitants of Paris and its suburbs, which jointly form the Ile-de-France region, to go back to working from home as much as possible.

- Balancing act -

Restaurants, however, can continue to operate provided they meet stricter new conditions, said Lallement.

These will include making sanitising hand gel available at all dining tables, limiting patrons to six a table with at least a metre (3.3 feet) between seats, and allowing patrons to remove their masks only for eating.

"We are constantly adapting to the reality of this epidemic, the reality of the virus, and we must continually find a balance between the health of our fellow citizens and the reality and necessity of economic and social life," said Lallement.

Rousseau said Paris has surpassed three worrying thresholds requiring its reclassification as a region on maximum alert.

These were the general rate of virus prevalence, its spread among older people at higher risk of serious illness, and the number of intensive care beds taken up by coronavirus patients -- now at 36 percent.

He said there were 203 active coronavirus "clusters" in Ile-de-France.

"The pressure is strong, and we know what will happen in the 15 coming days," said Rousseau.

"We know that we will arrive at about 50 percent of intensive care beds occupied by Covid patients. The point is to brake this progression."

Rousseau underlined that physical and social distancing remained the key tool for preventing virus spread.

Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne in a tweet also urged employers and workers in Paris and other zones on maximum alert "to work from home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus".

Lallement said pools and gyms in Paris will remain off-limits except for school activities, public gatherings would be limited to ten people, and there would be a ceiling of 1,000 people on open air stadiums for sporting or cultural events.

Visits to people in old-age homes may continue but only by appointment and limited to two visitors at a time.

Alcohol sales after 10:00 pm will remain prohibited, as will wedding and other parties in reception halls, and all expos or conferences held under large tents.

Clients will be limited to one per four square metres in shopping malls.

The measures will be reviewed at the end of the 15-day period on October 19.