NICE, France (AFP) — A restaurant owner was in police custody on Thursday after he defied France’s coronavirus restrictions by inviting dozens of people to eat in a revolt against the government’s ban on the opening of cafes and other eateries.
The incident underscored the risks for President Emmanuel Macron as he weighs a third Covid-19 lockdown against growing frustration over curfews, work-from-home rules and other measures to curb the pandemic.
Christophe Wilson, 50, opened his restaurant Poppies in Nice on the Mediterranean coast on Wednesday for around 100 people who dropped their face masks to enjoy a Provencal stew and other specialties.
“When I see Carrefour or Prima and all these multinationals where hundreds of people are massed together, I can no longer accept it,” he told a scrum of journalists during the opening, referring to major French shopping chains which are largely operating as normal.
“I have to pay my employees, support my family and welcome my clients,” he said.
He issued a call to arms for fellow restaurant owners on the brink of failure since they were forced to close on October 30 as Covid-19 cases soared.
“Someone needs to get everyone fired up, and if I have to be the one who takes that risk, so be it,” Wilson said.
Franck Lacaille, a 35-year-old chef at a restaurant in nearby Draguignan, joined the lunch in a show of solidarity.
“We came to support Christophe in his act of joyful disobedience,” he said. “There’s nothing violent about it, we just want to recover a sense of fraternity.”
Police officers watched the gathering but did not intervene until a few hours later, when Wilson was detained for questioning.
The Nice public prosecutor later said one of Wilson’s cooks had also been detained because he lacked proper residency papers.
The hashtag #LiberezChristophe (Free Christophe) trended on Twitter as supporters urged his release and expressed anger at his treatment.
But authorities warned they were working to identify diners who took part in the lunch, who would face fines.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal warned Wednesday that a nationwide 6 pm curfew imposed two weeks ago and other measures had not been enough to halt a worrying increase in coronavirus cases.
With schools still open, France has fewer restrictions than some European neighbors. But the government is keenly aware of growing fatigue among the public at the prospect of what would be a third lockdown.
Health experts have warned that the spread of new virus variants could require France to impose a new lockdown, possibly including school closures.
© Agence France-Presse