Southern French City Rebels Against COVID Shutdown

September 25, 2020 Updated: September 25, 2020

MARSEILLE, France—Hundreds of people protested in the French city of Marseille on Friday against tough new measures designed to curb the renewed surge in coronavirus cases.

Outside the city’s commercial tribunal, crowds gathered to denounce an order from Paris that restaurants and bars close for two weeks from Saturday, arguing the move was disproportionate to the risk and would devastate the local economy.

People on a terrace enjoy drinks
People on a terrace enjoy drinks after French authorities announced that they order cafes and restaurants to shut for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Marseille, on Sept. 24, 2020. (Noemie Olive/Reuters)

Some proprietors said they would defy the order, amid signs of mounting public frustration across France at the reimposition of restrictions on public life.

“We should stay open, they won’t be able to close everyone,” Jean-Pierre Cotens, owner of the 13 Coins bar, said during the protest. “And if there’s a fine, well, we’ll take it, but we’ll be better off working than shutting.”

The government order came this week after it placed Marseille and its surrounds on the Mediterranean on the maximum alert level for the spread of the virus.

People on a terrace enjoy drinks after French authorities announced that they order cafes and restaurants to shut for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
People on a terrace enjoy drinks after French authorities announced that they order cafes and restaurants to shut for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Marseille, on Sept. 24, 2020. (Noemie Olive/Reuters)

Local officials say earlier restrictions, including early closing hours for bars and a ban on student parties, were working and that the latest round of curbs was premature.

“We’re in complete despair. When they shut us down, they humiliate us,” said restaurateur Bernard Marty.

“This doesn’t just penalize the restaurateur behind the till. It’s an entire sector plunged into crisis: suppliers, event organizers, discotheques. Do they expect us to die in silence?”

People on a terrace enjoy drinks after French authorities announced that they order cafes and restaurants to shut for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
People on a terrace enjoy drinks after French authorities announced that they order cafes and restaurants to shut for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Marseille, on Sept. 24, 2020. (Noemie Olive/Reuters)

Brewing Rebellion

Renaud Muselier, president of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, which includes Marseille, said a legal injunction seeking a reprieve would be filed.

As France and other European countries try to smother the second wave of infections, Prime Minister Jean Castex said late on Thursday that he could not rule out targeted lockdowns. France, he said, faced a race against time.

In Paris, a notch below Marseille on “reinforced alert”, bars and restaurants will have to shut from 10 p.m. and sports halls and gyms will be closed to the public.

The tightened restrictions have split public opinion with a groundswell of frustration bubbling up.

Comedian Nicolas Bedos, a household name, urged citizens to revolt.

“Let’s live life to the full, hug each other, kick the bucket, get fevers, cough, recover, life is too short an interlude to enjoy it reluctantly,” he wrote on Twitter.

Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government would act to cover the fixed costs of bars and restaurants during the shutdown. Partial unemployment schemes would guarantee employees receive their full salary, she added.

“We have to act now to avoid finding ourselves in the same situation we experienced in March,” Borne told CNews.

By Noemie Olive