PARIS (AP) – As the pale winter sun sets over French Champagne, the countdown clock starts.
Workers stop pruning the vines around 4:30 p.m. as the light is fading. They have 90 minutes to get out of the cold, take off their work clothes, get into their cars, and zoom home before a 6:00 p.m. curfew.
Forget about any after-work contact with friends, after-school clubs for children or evening shopping that goes beyond quick trips. Police on patrol demand valid reasons from people on the move. For those without them, the threat of fines for curfews makes life outside of the weekends increasingly a breeze.
“Life ends at 6 p.m.”, says champagne producer Alexandre Prat.
Seeking to fend off the need for a third nationwide lockdown, which would put a further strain on Europe’s second largest economy and put more jobs at risk, France is opting for curfews instead. Large parts of eastern France, including most of the regions bordering Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy face restricted mobility from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
The rest of France could catch up quickly, losing two extra hours of freedom just enough for residents to lead a bare social life.
Until a few weeks ago, the nightly curfew did not come into effect until 8 p.m. in Prat’s region, the Marne. Customers were still stopping to buy bottles of his family’s bubbly wines on the way home, he said. However, when the cut-off time was brought up to 6 p.m. to slow down viral infections, the drinkers disappeared.
“Now we have no one,” said Prat.
The village in which the pensioner Jerome Brunault lives alone in the Burgundy wine region is also in a curfew at 6 p.m. The 67-year-old says his loneliness weighs more heavily without having the opportunity to have a drink, nibble and chat with friends in the early evening, the so-called “aperitifs” that the French loved so much that they At the beginning of the curfew were still feasible hours later.
“With the 6 p.m. curfew, we can no longer go to friends for a drink,” said Brunault. “I now spend my days talking to no one on the phone except the baker and a few people.”
Imposing a 6pm curfew nationwide is one of the options the French government is considering in response to rising infections and the spread of a particularly contagious variant of the virus across the UK, where new infections and virus deaths have skyrocketed.
Prime Minister Jean Castex could announce an extension of the curfew as well as other restrictions to fight the virus on Thursday evening in a country where more than 69,000 viruses have been killed.
An earlier curfew combats the transmission of viruses “precisely because it serves to limit the social interactions that people can have at the end of the day, for example in private households,” says French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
Overnight curfews have become the norm in parts of Europe, but the 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. curfew in 25 regions of eastern France is the most restrictive in the 27 countries of the European Union. The curfews in other countries all start later and often end earlier.
The curfew in Italy runs from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., as does the curfew from Friday evening to Sunday morning in Latvia. Regions in Belgium that speak French have a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., while in Dutch-speaking Belgium, opening hours are from midnight to 5 a.m.
People who are out and about in Hungary between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. must be able to prove to the police in writing that they are either working or commuting.
There is no curfew in Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Sweden, Poland or the Netherlands, although the Dutch government is considering whether introducing a curfew would slow down new COVID-19 cases.
In France, critics of the 6 p.m. curfew say people will be more crowded sooner after work when they pile on public transit in a narrow window at rush hour, clogging streets and shopping for groceries before they have to be home.
Felicie Guinot, rugby coach for women, says negotiating rush hour traffic in Marseille has become a nightmare. The city in southern France is one of those places where the more contagious variant of the virus is starting to blaze.
“It’s a mystery so everyone can be home by 6pm,” said Guinot.
In historic Besançon, the fortified town where Les Misérables writer Victor Hugo lived, music store owner Jean-Charles Valley says people don’t stop by after work after 6pm to pick up the guitars and other instruments he sells to play. Instead, they rush home.
“People are completely demoralized,” said Valley.
In Dijon, the French city known for its spicy mustard, working mother of two, Celine Bourdin, says her life has been limited to “dropping kids at school and going to work, then after Returning home helping children with homework and preparing dinner ”.
But even that cycle is better than repeating France’s lockdown at the start of the pandemic, when schools were also closed, Bourdin says.
“If my children don’t go to school, I can no longer work,” she said. “It was terribly difficult to be stuck in the house for almost 24 hours a day.”
Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France. AP journalists across Europe have contributed.
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