NICE, France (AP) — Tourism is booming again in France — and rightly so COVID-19. French authorities have “invited” or “recommended” people to return to wearing face masks, but have not renewed restrictions that would scare off visitors or revive anti-government protests.
From commuters in Paris to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s leniency, while some worry that the necessary precautionary measures may be needed.
Virus-related hospitalizations have increased rapidly in France in the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized per day, according to government figures. Infections are also increasing in Europe and the United Statesbut France has an extremely high proportion of people in hospital, according to Our world in data predictions.
French government spokeswoman Olivia Grégoire said there were no plans to reintroduce national regulations that restrict or place conditions on indoor gatherings and other activities.
“The French are fed up with restrictions,” she said on BFMTV on Wednesday. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.
France’s parliamentary elections last month saw President Emmanuel Macron lose his majority in the national legislature, while far-right and far-left parties that had earlier protested against his government vaccine and mask rules won seats.
After the prime minister this week recommended people resume wearing masks on public transport, commuter Rafael 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 Bussy-Saint-Antoine south of Paris, said she was against mandatory mask use but would cover her mouth and nose again if the government required it.
Hassani Mohammed, a postal worker in Paris, did not wait for the government’s decision. He disguises himself before his daily journey. With his wife recovering from surgery and two children at home, he doesn’t want to risk getting infected the coronavirus for the third time.
“I realized that the pandemic is not a thing of the past,” Mohammed said.
Masks are controversial in France. At the beginning of the pandemic, the French government assumed that masks were not useful. He eventually introduced some of the strictest restrictions in Europe, including a mandate for masks indoors and outdoors that lasted more than a year, along with strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled on Tuesday that the French government failed to stockpile enough surgical masks at the start of the pandemic and prevent the spread of the virus. The administrative court in Paris also ruled that the government was wrong to assume earlier that masks did not protect people from infection.
The government has lifted most virus rules until April and Foreign tourists are back by land, sea and air to French Mediterranean beaches, restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile, French hospitals are struggling with chronic staffing and funding shortages. Local authorities are considering new measures, including a mandate for indoor masks in some cities, but nothing to limit economic activity.
French tourism professionals expect a booming summer season despite the virus, with numbers that could even surpass pre-pandemic levels as Americans take advantage of a weaker euro and others rediscover travel abroad after more than two years of a more limited existence .
A slow economic recovery began on the French Riviera last summer. But with attendance at gatherings still limited, social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place a year ago, most visitors to the area were French.
A tour guide and e-bike taxi driver in Nice has described his joy at seeing foreign visitors again. During France’s repeated lockdowns, it transported essential workers and took people to hospitals to care for elderly relatives or for PCR tests.
Now passengers on their bikes from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy or beyond the reach of the hand sanitizer taped to the bulkhead between the passenger and rider seats. She said she still thoroughly disinfects the bike before every ride, “like it’s 2020.”
A retired UK couple visited France this week on their first trip abroad since travel restrictions were lifted due to the pandemic. They started with a cruise on the Rhone River – face masks were mandatory on the ship – and ended with a few days in the Mediterranean.
“It was wonderful from start to finish,” said Ross Runcie, who was in Nice with her husband Gordon. “Everyone is so pleased to see you, everyone is really polite and nice to visitors.”
Sue Baker, who traveled with her husband Phil and the Runcie family, remarked: “It feels very much like it was before 2020.”
Asked about the possible return of French mask rules, Phil Baker said: “Masks are a bit uncomfortable, especially in the heat.”
But his wife added: “If it means we can still go on holiday, we’ll put them back on without hesitation.”
Le Deley reported from Boussy-Saint-Antoine, France.
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