Paris awakens slowly after 2-month slumber to world it lost

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A man gets a hair cut at a hairdressing salon in Sevres, outside Paris, Monday, May 11, 2020. The French began leaving their homes and apartments for the first time in two months without permission slips as the country cautiously lifted its lockdown. Clothing stores, coiffures and other businesses large and small were reopening on Monday with strict precautions to keep the coronavirus at bay. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS – After a two-month freeze, Paris slowly awakened on Monday to the world it had lost under lockdown as hairdressers, florists, nail salons and some other businesses reopened - but under mandatory social distancing requirements.

Like a just-awakened sleeping beauty, the City of Light needed to rub its eyes on the first day of relaxed home confinement rules. Shopkeepers trying to recover losses may need to wait days for Parisians to rediscover the daily habits from before the coronavirus halted most public life.

“It’s a bit an act of faith today,” said Edouard Lefebvre, who heads the business district on the Champs-Elysees Avenue, packed with crowds of locals and foreign tourists in normal times.

Only half of the avenue’s shops were open Monday, Lefebvre said, reflecting the extensive preparations needed to safely receive customers and the hesitant steps many people took toward pre-pandemic routines.

“Clients won’t come back in day one. It takes time to get used to coming back to the Champs-Elysees, to come back to Paris,” Lefebvre said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Vehicles began filling streets again, but there were no traffic jams reported, and numerous people used bicycles to get around.

Restaurants and bars - at the heart of France's proverbial joie de vivre - are still waiting to learn when they will be back in business and cafe life can resume under the French government’s phased-in lifting of restrictions it imposed to stem the country's coronavirus outbreak.

Some Parisians couldn't resist the temptations of their newly-recovered freedom, and conviviality was accompanied by wine or beer. As the sun set over the picturesque Canal Saint Martin, youths gathered for conversation, standing shoulder-to-shoulder or sitting knee-to-knee on the ground, — until police moved in with a megaphone to disburse the crowd. The Paris police chief later issued a ban on consumption of alcoholic drinks along the banks of the Seine river, saying he “deplored” having to take action to ensure distancing on the first day of de-confinement.