MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – Civic leaders and business owners in Marseille reacted angrily on Thursday to the closure of bars and restaurants, saying they had not been consulted by the French government which ordered the measures to contain an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
Health Minister Olivier Veran ordered bars and restaurants in the city to shut for two weeks starting this weekend, after placing Marseille and its surrounds on the Mediterranean coast on the maximum alert level for the spread of the virus.
Local politicians said the step was out of proportion to the risks and would devastate their economy.
“There is nothing in the public health situation that justifies this move. I won’t allow the people of Marseille to become the victims of political decisions that no one understands,” Marseille mayor Michele Rubirola wrote on Twitter.
Marseille city hall sought a 10-day reprieve before it imposes the new measures.
At the 13 Coins bar near Marseille’s Old Port, in normal times a tourist hotspot, owner Jean Pierre Cotens said he had a refrigerator full of produce for the weekend trade that might now go to waste.
“What do I do with this? Will Mr. Macron be the one who pays for the losses?” he said, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Fingers are automatically being pointed at us bars and restaurants: we’re responsible for the rise in COVID cases in Marseille. It’s nonsense.”
“How and why are we responsible for this, when we do everything to comply with the rules? And despite everything, it’s not enough, and now we have to close,” Cotens added.
Responding to the criticism from Marseille politicians, Veran tweeted that the bar and restaurant closures were designed to protect people in Marseille from the epidemic, and that he had given advance notice to local officials.
Health officials in the city have warned that intensive care capacities are close to overload. Nationally, French health authorities on Wednesday reported 13,072 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over 24 hours.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo also expressed her disagreement after the government ruled bars and restaurants in the capital will have to close at 10 pm.
(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe, Henri-Pierre Andre and Lucien Libert; Editing by Catherine Evans)