MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – Restaurant owner Jean Avarello is struggling to understand why in the next few weeks the shops and theatres near him in the French city of Marseille will be allowed to reopen after a COVID-19 lockdown, but he has to stay shut.
“That’s not okay,” Avarello said on Thursday as he took part in a protest in Marseille involving several thousand people from the restaurant, bar and nightclub sector against the government order to keep them shut. “We feel we’ve been forgotten.”
Demonstrators gathered at the city’s old port, then marched to the office of the prefect — the most senior representative of central government in the region — where they were granted a meeting to convey their views.
Outside, protesters set off flares and smoke bombs, and one person, dressed in a chef’s tunic and toque, carried a mock-up of a gravestone with the inscription: “Here lies my restaurant.”
France will this weekend start a phased easing of its lockdown, imposed to curb a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is now starting to abate, and non-essential shops will re-open this weekend, while museums and cinemas can welcome back visitors from Dec. 15.
However, the hospitality sector has been told the earliest it can re-open is Jan. 20. Officials cited concerns that cafes and restaurants, where people remove masks to eat, could allow the virus to propagate again.
Avarello, owner of a restaurant called Le Cottage in a Marseille suburb, said he had already furloughed his employees at the restaurant, and was unsure how long he could keep going without revenue before he would have to close the business.
“Tomorrow, if I can’t pay my rent and I cannot pay off my loans, I will have no choice but to put the key under the door,” he said.
Asked what he wanted from the government, he said: “So we can reopen, that’s all.”
(Reporting by Marc Leras and Eric Gaillard; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)