‘At 6 p.m., life stops’: Europe uses curfews to fight virus

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PARIS (AP) – As the pale winter sun sets over French Champagne, the countdown kicks in.

Workers stop pruning the vines as the light fades around 4:30 p.m., giving them 90 minutes to get home from the cold, change their work clothes, get in their car and get home before the coronavirus curfew at 18 o’clock.

Forget about meeting after work with friends, after-school clubs for the kids or evening shopping beyond quick trips for essentials. The police on patrol ask valid reasons from people seen from the outside. For those who don’t, the threat of increased fines for curfew breakers increasingly makes life outside the weekends work and don’t play.

“At 6 pm, life stops,” explains champagne producer Alexandre Prat.

Trying to deal with the need for a third national lockdown which would further harm Europe’s second-largest economy and put more jobs at risk, France is opting instead for creeping curfews. Large parts of eastern France, including most of its border regions with Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, are subject to traffic restrictions from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. h 00.

The rest of France could quickly follow suit, wasting two extra hours of freedom that was just enough for residents to live fashionable social lives.

Until a few weeks ago, the nighttime curfew did not start until 8 p.m. in the region of Prat, Marne. Customers always stopped by to buy bottles of his family’s sparkling wine on the way home, he said. But when the cut-off time was moved forward to 6 p.m. to slow down viral infections, the drinkers were gone.

“Now we have no one,” Prat said.

The village where retiree Jérôme Brunault lives alone in the Burgundy wine region is also in one of the 6pm curfew zones. The 67-year-old says his loneliness weighs more heavily without the opportunity to have an early evening drink, snack and chat with friends, the so-called “aperitif” encounters so beloved by the French who were still achievable when the curfew has started two hours later.

“With the 6 pm curfew, we can no longer go to see friends for a drink,” Brunault said. “I now spend my days not talking to anyone except the baker and some people on the phone.”

Imposing a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew is among the options the French government is considering in response to the rise in infections and the spread of a particularly contagious virus variant that has swept through Britain, where new infections and deaths from viruses have skyrocketed.

Prime Minister Jean Castex could announce an extension of the curfew on Thursday evening, along with other restrictions, to tackle the virus in a country that has seen more than 69,000 confirmed virus deaths.

An earlier curfew combats transmission of the virus “precisely because it serves to limit the social interactions that people can have at the end of the day, for example in private homes,” said the spokesperson for the French government Gabriel Attal.

Nighttime curfews have become the norm in parts of Europe, but the 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew in 25 regions of eastern France is the most restrictive of the 27 EU countries European. Curfews in other countries all start later and often end earlier.

The curfew in Italy is from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., as is the curfew from Friday evening to Sunday morning in Latvia. The regions of Belgium that speak French have a curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. while in the Dutch-speaking Belgian region the hours are from midnight to 5:00 a.m.

People who go out between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. in Hungary must be able to present the police with written proof from their employer that they are working or commuting.

There is no curfew in Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, …

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