NICE, France (Reuters) - Bathers took a dip in the sea or strolled Nice’s Promenade des Anglais on the French Riviera on Saturday, many wearing protective masks, as the beach reopened to the public for the first time since a nationwide coronavirus lockdown in mid-March.
People living in low-infection zones of France, so-called green zones, were able to hit the beach after the government began easing restrictions on Monday. Local officials reopened selected beaches in Northern France and Mediterranean coasts on Saturday.
But there are new rules: individual activities such as swimming, fishing or surfing are allowed, provided social-distancing is respected, but sunbathing or staying on a beach for hours is not permitted.
“I’m a bit annoyed. We could swim this morning. We could enjoy the sea which we had not seen for nearly two months. Now, we cannot yet sunbathe and lounge. We’re semi-free,” said a local bather sporting a straw hat as he strolled the rather empty pebbly beach.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner went to Veules-Les- Roses beach in the northern region of Normandy to check on the situation.
“The virus is still around. We must learn to live with it. One can go fishing but not linger on the beach for hours. We are all responsible in the fight against COVID- 19,” he said.
“If the rules are not respected, we will reverse our decisions (to open some beaches),” he warned.
The easing of France’s eight-week lockdown, one of the strictest in Europe, started on May 11, allowing non-essential shops, factories and other businesses to re-open.
During lockdown, beaches, forest parks were closed to the public. Forests have re-opened and the government ruled that beaches could reopen on a case-by-case basis if local mayors applied for this.
The country is split into “green zones” where the infection rate is low and “red zones”, including the greater Paris region, where the rate is higher and more restrictions are in place. To date, France has recorded 141,919 cases and 27,529 deaths from the disease.
Theatres, restaurants and bars remain closed across the country until at least June.
The government announced measures worth 18 billion euros ($19 billion) on Thursday to support the tourism sector, which has been hammered by the coronavirus crisis and resulting shutdown of beaches, leisure attractions and hotels.
In Greece, authorities opened some 500 beaches, although with measures to ensure social distancing.
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Eric Gaillard; Editing by Frances Kerry