Struggling to give up coffee and books in coronavirus France

PARIS (Reuters) - France has battened down the hatches against coronavirus, with millions of school children studying from home, office workers connecting remotely, and restaurants and cinemas shut.

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But for some, adhering to the restrictions is already proving difficult.

In the Montmartre district of Paris, Le Cafe Tabac no longer offers coffee to seated patrons or those at the bar, instead selling only takeaway brews. The result: its clientele have simply moved to the pavement.

“Just getting a take-away, they gather outside, chat, smoke a cigarette, drink their coffee. So they’re not respecting the rules,” said Frederic Monnier, the cafe’s owner.

“I’d thought they’d buy their coffee and leave. But no, they linger and talk!”

France’s government on Saturday announced the closure of all cinemas, theaters, cafes, bars and restaurants, toughened curbs on public gatherings and urged people to stay at home.

But the first signs of warm spring sunshine on Sunday encouraged many to wander outside. Families strolled in the capital’s parks, and friends and couples walked arm-in-arm along the Mediterranean seafront in Marseille.

Jerome Salomon, head of the public health authority, told France Inter on Monday that many people did not seem to be taking advice on social distancing seriously. Paris City Hall said it was closing its parks as a result.

“There’s no reason to panic but yeah we have to respect the restrictions,” physiotherapist Tristan de Parcevaux said, insisting he was not breaking any government orders as he drank coffee outside Le Cafe Tabac’s doorway.

Sources told Reuters on Sunday that the government was preparing an order that would put its inhabitants under lockdown. President Emmanuel Macron is due to address the nation at 1900 GMT.

Paris is due to hold the second round of a mayoral election next weekend but it is unclear whether it will go ahead. Macron’s candidate, Agnes Buzyn, said she was suspending her campaign a day after polling third in the first round.

A few streets from Monnier’s cafe, book store owner Marie-Rose Guarnieri was quietly allowing in customers who looked through her shop window. But it was inevitable, she said, that she would soon have to pull down the shutters.

“We would have liked it if the government had considered book shops to be essential, just as it did pharmacies and newsagents,” Guarnieri said. “At least then people could have read in confinement.”

Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Nick Tattersall