Nice, France (AP):
Tourism in France is booming again – and so is Covid-19.
French officials have “invited” or “proposed” people to return to wearing masks, but have stopped renewing restrictions that would divert visitors or revive anti-government protests.
From passengers in Paris to tourists on the French Riviera, many seem to welcome the government’s light touch, while others are concerned that the necessary prevention measures may be needed.
According to official data, the number of virus-related hospital admissions in France has risen sharply in the past two weeks, with around 1,000 COVID-19 patients being admitted to the hospital every day. Infections are also on the rise across Europe and the United States, but Our World in Data estimates that the number of people hospitalized in France is exceptionally high.
French government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire says there are no plans to reintroduce national rules that limit or set conditions for gathering indoors and other activities.
“The French people are sick of the restrictions,” he told the channel BFMTV on Wednesday. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.”
President Emmanuel Macron lost his majority in the National Assembly in France’s parliamentary elections last month, while parties on the right and left protesting his government’s previous vaccine and mask rule won seats.
“We have to deal with the virus, but we can’t stop living because of it,” said passenger Rafael Vertaldi, after the prime minister last week recommended that people start wearing masks on public transport again.
Vertaldi, who was boarding a train in Boussi-Saint-Antoine, south of Paris, said he opposed the use of compulsory masks but would cover his face and nose again if the government needed to.
Masks have been controversial in France. Early in the epidemic, the French government suggested that masks were not helpful. It has finally introduced some of Europe’s toughest restrictions, including an interior and exterior mask mandate that lasts more than a year with strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled last Tuesday that the French government had failed to stockpile surgical masks at the start of the epidemic and prevent the spread of the virus. The Paris Administrative Court also ruled that the government was wrong in initially advising that masks do not protect people from being infected.
The government lifted most of the virus rules by April, and foreign tourists have returned to French Mediterranean beaches, restaurants and bars by land, sea and air.
Meanwhile, French hospitals are struggling with chronic staffing and funding shortages. Local officials are considering new arrangements, including indoor mask mandates, in some cities, but nothing that will hinder economic activity.
French tourism professionals are expecting a rising summer in spite of the virus, a number that could even surpass pre-epidemic levels as Americans benefit from a weaker euro and others rediscover foreign travel more than two years after a more limited existence.