Eiffel Tower reopens after record nine-month closure over pandemic

The Eiffel Tower on June 13, 2021.
The Eiffel Tower on June 13, 2021. © Sameer Al-Doumy, AFP/File

With “Welcome” messages in multiple languages, the Eiffel Tower greeted tourists Friday for the first time in nearly nine months, reopening to the public even as France introduces new virus rules aimed at taming the fast-spreading delta variant.

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Smiles were broad and emotions palpable as the first masked visitors mounted the elevators heading to the top of the Paris monument.

“It’s such a lovely place and wonderful people...and now the wonderful Tour Eiffel,” German tourist Ila Mires said, using the French name for the tower. She came with her 19-year-old daughter before the young woman leaves for studies in Amsterdam. Seeing the tower on their last day together in Paris “is such a gift to mother and daughter,” Mires said.

The “Iron Lady” of Paris was ordered shut in October as France battled its second virus surge of the pandemic, and remained shut for renovations even after other French tourist draws reopened last month.

The tower’s reopening came four days after President Emmanuel Macron announced new measures aimed at warding off a fourth surge, including mandatory vaccinations for health workers and mandatory Covid-19 passes to enter restaurants and tourist and other venues.

Starting Wednesday, all visitors to the Eiffel Tower over age 18 will need to show a "health pass" proving they’ve been fully vaccinated, had a negative virus test or recently recovered from Covid-19.

Masks are required, and the number of daily visitors to the tower will be limited to about half the pre-pandemic norm of 25,000.

“We worked, we worked, we worked [for this day]. And when I saw my first visitor, I was very, very happy. Emotion and happiness,” Eiffel Tower director Patrick Branco Ruivo told reporters.

But early reservations for tickets underscored how the tourism industry in Paris has changed due to travel restrictions.

“Before Covid, it was 80% foreigners, 20% French. Last year, it was 80% French, 20% foreigners. And this year, it’s amazing because it’s fifty-fifty. And for us, it’s the time that foreigners are coming back to the Eiffel Tower,” he said.

The head of the tower's operating company, Jean-François Martins of Sete, told AFP there was an "almost total absence" of British ticket holders while only 15 percent were Americans and very few are from Asia while Italians and Spanish make up a higher proportion than usual.

The masterpiece by architect Gustave Eiffel has also been hit by problems linked to its latest paint job, the 20th time it has been repainted since its construction in 1889. Work was halted in February because of high levels of lead detected on the site, which poses a health risk to labourers.

Tests are still under way and painting is set to resume only in the autumn, meaning a part of the façade is obscured by scaffolding and safety nets.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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