Nice, France — Tourism is booming again in France, as is COVID-19. French authorities have “invited” or “recommended” people to start using face masks again, but have not renewed restrictions that would scare off visitors or rekindle anti-government protests.
From Parisian commuters to tourists on the Côte d’Azur, many people seem to welcome the government’s light-heartedness, while some fear that the required prevention measures are necessary.
Virus-related hospitalizations have increased rapidly in France over the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized per day, according to government data. Infections are also rising in Europe and the United States, but France has an exceptionally high proportion of people in hospital, according to estimates from Our World in Data.
French government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire said there were no plans to reintroduce national regulations limiting or setting conditions for indoor gatherings and other activities.
“The French are fed up with the restrictions,” she said on the BFMTV channel on Wednesday. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.”
French legislative elections last month saw President Emmanuel Macron lose his majority in the national legislature, while far-right and far-left parties who had protested against his government’s previous rules on vaccines and masks won seats.
After the Prime Minister this week recommended that people start wearing masks on public transport again, commuter Raphaelle Vertaldi said: ‘We have to deal with the virus, but we can’t stop living because of it .
Vertaldi, who was boarding a train at Boussy-Saint-Antoine south of Paris, said she opposed compulsory mask-wearing but would cover her mouth and nose again, if the government requires it.
Hassani Mohammed, postman in Paris, did not wait for the government to decide. He masks himself before his daily commute. With his wife recovering from surgery and two children at home, he doesn’t want to risk contracting the coronavirus a third time.
“I realized that the pandemic is not a thing of the past,” Mohammed said.
Masks have been controversial in France. At the start of the pandemic, the French government suggested that masks were not useful. He eventually introduced some of the toughest restrictions in Europe, including an indoor and outdoor mask mandate that lasted more than a year, as well as strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled on Tuesday that the French government failed to supply enough surgical masks at the start of the pandemic and prevented the spread of the virus. The Paris administrative court also ruled that the government was wrong to suggest early on that masks did not protect people from infection.
The government lifted most virus rules in April, and foreign tourists have returned by land, sea and air to the beaches, restaurants and bars of the French Mediterranean.
In the meantime, French hospitals are struggling with long-term staffing and funding shortages. Local authorities are considering new measures, including an indoor mask mandate in some cities, but nothing that would dampen economic activity.
French tourism professionals expect a booming summer season despite the virus, with figures that could even exceed pre-pandemic levels, with Americans taking advantage of the weak euro and others rediscovering the trips abroad after more than two years of a more circumscribed existence.
On the Côte d’Azur, a slow economic recovery began last summer. But with attendance at rallies still capped, social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place a year ago, most visitors to the area were French.
A tourist guide and e-bike taxi driver in Nice has described her joy at seeing foreign visitors again. During France’s repeated lockdowns, she transported essential workers and took people to hospitals, to care for elderly relatives or for PCR tests.
Now passengers on his bike from the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy or out of reach of hand sanitizer stuck on the barrier between the passenger and driver seats. She said she always diligently sanitizes the bike before every ride, “like it’s 2020.”
A retired couple from the UK traveled to France this week on their first trip abroad since pandemic travel restrictions were lifted. They started with a cruise on the Rhone – face masks were mandatory on the ship – and ended with a few days on the Mediterranean.
“It was delicious from start to finish,” said Ros Runcie, who was in Nice with her husband, Gordon. “Everyone is so happy to see you, everyone is really polite and kind to visitors.”
Sue Baker, who was traveling with her husband, Phil, and the Runcies, observed: “It feels a lot like before 2020.”
Asked about the possible return of French mask rules, Phil Baker said: “Masks are a bit uncomfortable, especially in hot weather.”
But his wife added: “If it means we can still go on vacation, we will put them back without hesitation.”
The Deley reported from Boussy-Saint-Antoine, France.
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