AS THE wan winter Sun sets over France’s Champagne region, countdown clock kicks in. Labourers stop pruning the vines as the light fades at about 4:30 pm, leaving them 90 minutes to come in from the cold, change out of their work clothes, hop in their cars and zoom home before a 6 pm coronavirus curfew. Forget about any after-work socialising with friends, after-school clubs for children or doing any evening shopping beyond quick trips for essentials. Police on patrol demand valid reasons from people seen out and about.
For those without them, the threat of mounting fines for curfew-breakers is increasingly making life outside of the weekends all work and no play. “At 6 pm, life stops,” says Champagne producer Alexandre Prat. Trying to fend off the need for a third nationwide lockdown that would further dent Europe’s second-largest economy and put more jobs in danger, France is instead opting for creeping curfews. Big chunks of eastern France, including most of its regions that border Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, face 6 pm.-to-6 am restrictions on movement.
The rest of France could quickly follow suit, losing two extra hours of liberty that have been just enough for residents to maintain bare-bones social lives. Until a couple of weeks ago, the nightly curfew didn’t kick in until 8 pm in Prat’s region, the Marne. Customers still stopped to buy bottles of his family’s bubbly wines on their way home, he said. But when the cut-off time was advanced to 6 pm to slow viral infections, the drinkers disappeared. “Now we have no one,” Prat said.