French chefs and café owners protest Covid-19 closures

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One of France's top chefs on Thursday urged fellow restaurant and bar owners to protest against the possible closure of their establishments, as the government considers tightening rules to control a second coronavirus wave.

Double Michelin-starred Philippe Etchebest, who frequently appears on TV cooking shows, pressed restaurateurs and their staff to stand on the street outside their venues on Friday before lunch service and make some noise.

"We will not die in silence," he said on BFM television. "The government must understand that restaurants are not to blame for COVID and that closing our venues only moves the problem elsewhere," he said.

Etchebest, who regularly acts as a spokesman for the industry and has been consulted by President Emmanuel Macron, said closing restaurants and bars would encourage people to gather in private homes, where he questioned whether social distancing rules were respected at all.

Health Minister Olivier Veran has already ordered bars and restaurants in the southern city of Marseille to shut for two weeks and said on Thursday that Paris could be placed on the maximum alert level from Monday, meaning similar measures there.


Alain Fontaine, owner of Le Meustret and president of the Association of Master Restaurateurs, said restaurants only accounted for 2% of coronavirus clusters in France.

"We don't understand why we're being targeted," he said. "It's going a bit far because we're getting at a way of life. In Paris, cafes, bistros and restaurants are important socially."

Like other European countries where infection rates have surged in the past month, France has once again been tightening restrictions on public life, hoping it will be enough to contain the disease and avoid a second national lockdown.

In Marseille's Old Port in France, several restaurants on Monday defied a government order to shutdown for two weeks to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, saying they had little to lose.

The shutdown, which came into effect at midnight on Sunday, angered local politicians, restaurant owners and employees who say it is disproportionate to the risk and will devastate the local economy.

"It's not in bars and restaurants that COVID has come surging back," said one restaurant owner who opened for lunch service. "I've 60 kg of mussels that need using up."

"Overnight, we have no money coming in and we have families to feed," the restaurateur, who did not want to reveal his identity, said.

Opponents of the shutdown have filed a legal petition seeking that it be overturned.

The petition, protests in the Mediterranean port city, and the defiant stand by some restaurateurs point to simmering public resentment as the government again tightens COVID restrictions.

The UMIH trade union said it hoped the courts would reverse the government order but that it was not encouraging its members to flout the law.

"We must respect the law, even if we don't agree with it," said UMIH president and restaurant owner Bernard Marty.

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