PARIS (AFP) - People in France enjoyed indoor dining and gyms for the first time in months on Wednesday (June 9), as the country relaxed coronavirus rules that will also see a curfew pushed to 11pm as Covid-19 cases ease and vaccination rates pick up.
Rules for travellers from within the European Union were also eased, while cultural venues relaxed their measures in line with France's phased reopening for the summer months. The return of simple joys was welcome for some.
"It's a pleasure to have a coffee inside. Normal life is gradually resuming," said transport employee Hammou Mraoui, sipping a coffee in a bar in the Meudon suburb of Paris.
Bar owner Christophe Guedes said it was an adjustment to serve indoors again. "It's almost strange to hear a client say 'a coffee inside please', but it's a huge relief," he told AFP.
The overnight curfew will now start later - at 11pm instead of 9pm - before being dropped entirely on June 30 if all goes to plan.
The new measures also mean that spectators will be able to enjoy night sessions for the final stages of the French Open tennis in Paris, after previously being slung out at 9pm.
Tables of up to six will be permitted at cafes and restaurants, while gyms can also reopen for clients indoors.
Some fitness buffs were happy to finally be allowed inside again, including Ms Stephanie Moscoso, who hit her local gym in central Paris at 8am.
"I was super motivated. I put on the alarm clock this morning, it was super early, I saw the sun, I said to myself: 'This is the beginning of a new life!'" the 35-year-old said.
'Art of living'
Travel to France will also be easier from Wednesday, with borders fully open to EU residents.
Visitors from the EU will not have to provide a negative antigen or polymerase chain reaction test if they have had a full course of one of the four vaccines authorised by the bloc - Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
Travel from other zones, including the United States and Britain, are subject to tighter restrictions but visitors will no longer have to prove a compelling reason for a visit, so long as they are fully vaccinated.
Despite the closures of the past year, France over the last half year endured less severe lockdowns than its neighbours - notably avoiding major school closures - in what was seen as a major gamble by French President Emmanuel Macron.
On May 19, France allowed restaurant and cafe terraces to open for the first time since November last year, while museums also welcomed visitors again.
One sector still lacking clarity is night clubs, which remain closed until further notice, with the government set to look at the situation again on June 21.
And in virtually all of France, masks remain obligatory even outdoors until further notice.
The new openings come as France - one of Europe's hardest-hit countries - sees a drop in coronavirus cases after a grim winter.
The number in intensive care is down to 2,394 compared with 6,000 in late April.
And as at Tuesday, more than 28 million people had at least one vaccine shot - about 55 per cent of the adult population.
The government is on course to reach its target of 30 million people with at least one dose of the vaccine by June 15.
Mr Macron urged caution with the reopenings, while embracing a return to normal.
"A new step will be taken" on Wednesday, he wrote on Twitter. "Life will resume across our lands. It is part of our culture, of our art of living, that we are going to reacquaint ourselves with," he said.