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France Is Taking A Major Step To Ease Pandemic Restrictions


France is taking one big step out of the pandemic. Starting today, movie theaters and swimming pools open back up, and the borders will be open to some tourists just in time for summer. There's also some good news for Americans in all this. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.


MARTIN: So this all sounds positive. Tell us more about how these changes came to be.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, it's wonderful. Vaccinations are way up in France and infections are down, so France is opening up. It's the second and next-to-final stage in the openings. The curfew that we have at 9 p.m. has been pushed back to 11 p.m. That's a big deal. That means people can hang out at those outdoor cafes that have now been open for a couple weeks. Today, swimming pools, gyms, sports facilities, movie theaters can open, but capacity is capped at 50%, and you can now eat inside restaurants. And also the borders are open to any European tourist who is vaccinated. And - wait for it, Rachel - France is one of the European countries that's letting vaccinated Americans in as of today. Americans just have to take one extra precaution. You have to board the plane and show a negative PCR or antigen test.

MARTIN: Before you get on the plane, you've got to show...

BEARDSLEY: Before you get on the plane, exactly. But then you're free to go. You can come.

MARTIN: You don't have to quarantine or anything when you get there.

BEARDSLEY: No, you don't. You do not. But only vaccinated Americans.

MARTIN: Right.

BEARDSLEY: You've got to get the vaccine, too.

MARTIN: Right. So, I mean, Parisians have gotten kind of used to having their city to themselves. Do they really want American tourists hanging around?

BEARDSLEY: Well, that's funny that you should ask. A lot of Parisians did say it was true, even though, you know, the economy was shut and there were no tourists, they got to know their own city. You know, somebody talked to me about just walking the streets of Montmartre when usually these are things you can't or don't want to do as a Parisian because there's throngs of tourists. But no, everyone is ready to open up. We are ready to get back to normal life here in Paris. Everyone - especially in the hospitality industry. And I was out last night, you know, talking to cafe owners. And I spoke to a bartender, Baptiste Billat, and I asked him how he felt about Americans coming back to his cafe restaurant, Le Regalia, which is on the Seine River. And this is what he told me.

BAPTISTE BILLAT: We always enjoy the American people in Paris. We're always happy to see them in the restaurants because they, like, good clients. They love to eat French, and then they give good tips. So that's good for us. They're always happy. That's why we love them.

MARTIN: They're always happy.


MARTIN: They tip well, basically, is the operative phrase.


MARTIN: So tourism - I mean, it is about money, isn't it? Tourism is a significant part of the economy in France.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. You know, actually, France is the world's top tourist destination, and tourism accounts for about 7% of French GDP. You know, 38 million tourists visited Paris in 2019, there were 89 million tourist arrivals in France, and 2.5 million Americans stayed in Paris in 2019 for a total of 14 million nights. Those are from the French tourism agency. You know, it really is the perfect time to come back. The sidewalk cafes are out. It's beautiful weather. So France is encouraging people to come back.

MARTIN: So, I mean, there are going to be more Europeans, more Americans taking trips there, most likely. What about travelers from Asian countries? I mean, France has been a really popular destination for Asian tourists. But at the same time, COVID-19 is all over in different pockets of Asia.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the Chinese love France. It's one of the big destinations. You see lines outside of, like, the Louis Vuitton stores. They love the luxury goods, go to Bordeaux. But so far, they're not being allowed in, and their government is also restricting them from traveling. There's different restrictions for the Brits where there's a new variant of the virus surging. So, you know, some countries are not as free to come in. The French government is using a kind of, you know, stoplight system - green, amber, red. And as vaccinations rise and other countries get safer and infection rates fall, other countries will get the green lights to come in. But so far, it's just EU and North Americans, so...

MARTIN: I'm booking my tickets. I'll see you soon.

Eleanor Beardsley from Paris. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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