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French government shoots down Paris mayor’s request to reopen parks

Customers shops at an outdoor market at the Place des Fetes in Paris on the second day of a lifting of confinement measures, 12 May 2020.
Customers shops at an outdoor market at the Place des Fetes in Paris on the second day of a lifting of confinement measures, 12 May 2020. AFP - ALAIN JOCARD
3 min

A standoff between city and state has emerged over the reopening of Paris’s parks and gardens as coronavirus confinement lifts, which the French government says is impossible due to the spread of the coronavirus but which Mayor Anne Hidalgo argues is needed to avoid overcrowding elsewhere in the city. 

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Lifting the nationwide confinement measures imposed in mid-March to contain the spread of the new coronavirus has been proving particularly difficult in Paris, due to the density of the population and where the virus remains highly active. 

Parisians are rediscovering their shops and open air markets but reunions between friends and family, after nearly two months of lockdown, are creating problems with respect to the physical distancing measures, which are still in place. 

Mayor Anne Hidalgo has argued that opening parks and gardens would be in the interest of public health, giving residents of the densely populated capital more space to move. 

“If you don’t open parks and gardens for walking, sport, picnics, Parisians will relocate to sidewalks or places like riverbanks or the canal Saint-Martin,” Hidalgo said Wednesday, referring to a popular spot for picnics that was heavily crowded on Monday. 

“It’s possible to control the entry of people and say at a moment that the limit has been reached,” Hidalgo added. “And if we open parks and gardens, I will make it required to wear a mask.” 

Police intervened to break up groups of people violating distancing rules and the government banned alcohol consumption on the city’s canals and river banks. The stairs leading up to the Sacré-Coeur monument on Montmartre were also shut down.

Government rejects Hidalgo's proposal

But the government has rejected Hidalgo’s requests to give Parisians more space to intermingle.

“We will not open parks and gardens in Paris and in Ile-de-France, nor in the other regions classified as red,” Health Minister Olivier Véran said Tuesday in reference to the government’s classification for areas where infection remains high.

“The reopening of parks and gardens would be untimely, considering the speed of the spread of the virus in the Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region,” government spokesperson Sibyth Ndiaye said Wednesday. 

Following a cabinet meeting, Ndiaye said President Emmanuel Macron expressed cautious optimism that the country would successfully transition out of its two-month confinement, but that it was also “too soon to claim victory”.

Health officials reported 348 new deaths due to Covid-19 on Tuesday evening, a reminder that the epidemic was still active in France. Officials have warned a second wave of infection was possible and that the country would go back into confinement if necessary.

 

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