Outdoor seating only: Parisian cafes eke out space along sidewalks

PARIS (Reuters) – The Cafe de Flore in Paris, once a favourite drinking hole of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, spread its tables along the pavement, in front of the neighbouring book store, and reopened on Tuesday for the first time in 11 weeks.

Locals could once again enjoy a morning espresso, albeit only at tables spaced a metre apart, as the government allowed cafes and restaurants to open outdoor terraces, lifted travel curbs within France and permitted sunbathing on beaches.

“We’re back at home,” said one regular, Rachel, at the cafe in the French capital’s chic Left Bank neighbourhood. “Morning time is coffee time. We’re rediscovering old habits.”

Across Paris, cafe owners encroached on sidewalks to maximise the number of tables they could set. Each had to submit their new configuration to the local authorities online and in the days ahead their new layout will be inspected.

Those without little or no outdoor seating have been less fortunate.

Across the boutique-lined Boulevard Saint-Germain from the Cafe de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp, which kept serving through World War Two but was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, remained closed.

Even under a bright blue sky, business started slowly. Servers wore masks and said they were still finding their way under the new conditions. Some cafes replaced menus with chalkboards, others asked patrons to scan a barcode to bring up the menu on their smartphone.

At the Le Bourbon brasserie, staff set out about a dozen tables in a small square behind the National Assembly. Manager Jean-Pierre Viala said they were at the mercy of the weather gods, with rain forecast later in the week.

“It’s hard to predict how much food to buy in when you’re dependent on the weather,” he said.

Finance Minister Bruno le Maire on Tuesday promised a solidarity fund to help cafes and restaurants would run until the end of 2020. Many depend on the tourists who in normal times swarm through Paris, the world’s most visited city.

“We desperately need borders to re-open,” said Arnaud Lacroix, whose coffee and ice-cream bar is located opposite the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame of Paris cathedral.

In the past two years, his business has been hammered by anti-government “yellow vest” protests, the cathedral blaze and now the virus.

“We can’t hold out much longer,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling in headline)

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Coronavirus: Restaurants and cafes reopen in Israel under strict rules

Boris Johnson has said he is “optimistic” about pubs and restaurants reopening in the UK soon, but how easy will it be?

“I’m much more optimistic about that than I was.” the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday.

“We may be able to do things faster than I had previously thought.”

Countries are moving at different speeds, with their lockdown reductions dependent largely on the success they have had at containing the coronavirus.

Israel is one of a small number of nations which is now pushing ahead quickly with the reopening of society.

This week, the hospitality sector was allowed to reopen with businesses and customers being asked to stick to a set of rules.

But a couple of hours at one west Jerusalem cafe and the sense I get is that it is going to be extremely challenging.

So what are the rules?

The details will differ from country to country, but broadly they centre around extra hygiene and social distancing.

The Israeli government has issued guidelines for businesses which say:

  • Establishments with capacity of 100 or less can operate at 100%
  • Those with capacity of over 100 people must operate at 85%
  • A distance of 1.5m must be placed between tables
  • Tables and chairs must be fully disinfected between customers
  • Tables must only be set after customers are seated
  • Menus must be disposable
  • Salt, pepper and other condiments must be disinfected after each sitting
  • Antibacterial gel must be readily available
  • All food on display must be covered
  • Customer temperatures must be taken before they enter premises
  • A staff member in every restaurant must be assigned as being responsible for monitoring that regulations are followed

The reality seems to be a little different though.

Customers tend to bunch up subconsciously, waitresses’ masks slip down from their noses, and some people unintentionally walk past the waiter with the thermometer. It’s all a bit chaotic, naturally.

And this is all at a cafe, which is, on the face of it, taking the regulations seriously.

The owner was armed with a tape measure and had been diligently spacing out the tables to meet the required 1.5m (almost 5ft) distance.

The Israeli government and local authorities are acutely aware of how important it is to get the economy moving again, but balancing that against the regulations is hard.

The authorities here have given restaurants permission to spread out along pavements and even into parking bays, allowing them to seat more people at a safe distance. The weather in Israel is on their side.

In Tel Aviv, 115 bars, restaurants and cafes have been given the go-ahead to expand into public space around their premises.

The city’s mayor, Ron Huldai, said: “We will continue to fight for the 70,000 workers from the restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs sector in Tel Aviv.

“These businesses are the beating heart of the urban economy and I have instructed the municipal executives to turn every stone to find ways to put them again on their feet.”

After a couple of hours at the Jerusalem cafe, on just day two of their reopening, it looks to me like the drive to return to normal is overwhelming the necessity to adapt our behaviour.

Whether it is retail, hospitality or travel, as we try to return to normal, or at least an “adapted normal”, the requirements seem to go against all our natural pre-corona instincts.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the social environment of a restaurant or pub.

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EU fury: Brussels launches investigation over airline merger competition suspicions

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The Montreal-based Air Canada, which will be the acquiring firm, hopes that the deal will provide a boost for its tourism and leisure travel market. But the European Commission has said that the deal could reduce competition. This could result in higher prices for customers as a consequence.

The deal has been in the works since it was announced in April 30, and it received approval by Transat shareholders in August 2019.

However, competition approval by relevant authorities can take a significant amount of time.

Indeed, according to reports the European Commission has set a deadline of September 30 this year for its decision on the deal.

This is likely to be frustrating for both companies with Reuters reporting that Transat had initially hoped the deal would have closed by early 2020.

The European Commission’s input is relevant in this case because although both firms are Canadian, there are 33 air routes between the EU and Canada that could be affected, Reuters reports.

But Air Canada has said the deal would provide customers with more frequent flights and better connections, and claimed it would provide a boost to the economy of Quebec, where Montreal is.

Upon shareholder approval last year, Air Canada said: “We will build a company greater than the sum of its parts that we can all be proud of.

“Travellers will benefit from the combined companies’ enhanced capabilities in the highly competitive, global leisure travel market and from access to new destinations, more connecting traffic and increased frequencies.

“Customers and the Quebec economy will derive maximum advantage of having a Montreal-based, growth-oriented global champion in aviation, the world’s most international business, spurring more employment and securing Montreal’s position as a leader among world aviation centres.”

However, Margrethe Vestager, antitrust chief for the EU, said in a statement: “This is a challenging time, especially in markets severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but a return to normal and healthy market conditions must be based on markets that remain competitive,” according to Bloomberg.

The EU also added that the main rival between the proposed combined entity – WesJet – would be unlikely to provide sufficient competition on certain routes.

Under the terms of the deal, which have been altered since its inception, Transat has agreed to be acquired for a price of $18 per share, Bloomberg reports.

This means that deal will be worth roughly $720 million Canadian dollars.

However, the Covid-19 crisis has caused widespread trouble for the global aviation and tourism industries.

Shares in Transat AT have fallen well below the proposed share price agreement in the wake of the pandemic to $7 CAD at closing time yesterday.

By contrast, prices were just over $16 CAD in January and February, before plummeting sharply in mid-March.

Transat acknowledged the European Commission’s decision to open an investigation, and said in a statement that it has activated the first of three one-month delays to the deal.

It added: “This extension is part of the EC’s normal process of assessing the impact of transactions submitted for its approval, which is currently complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it is having on the international commercial aviation market.”

The deal is expected to close on in the fourth quarter of 2020 if the EU gives the go-ahead.

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Motorcyclist seriously injured after crashing into tree in Mississauga: Peel police

Peel Regional Police say a motorcyclist was seriously injured after he crashed into a tree in Mississauga Friday afternoon.

Police said they were called to the area of Loyalist and Unity drives, west of Winston Churchill Boulevard, at 2:24 p.m.

Officers initially said reports from the scene indicated the motorcycle was on fire.

The motorcyclist, a man, suffered possibly life-threatening injuries and was taken to a trauma centre.

Police said the major collision bureau is now investigating what may have led to the crash.

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Limited fare gate access, masks recommended in new TransLink coronavirus initiatives

TransLink officials are introducing new measures on buses, SkyTrain, West Coast Express and SeaBus as part of their new coronavirus initiatives across the system.

One of the biggest changes will be limited fare gate access at some of the busiest SkyTrain stations. This will be to help manage the number of customers on the platform and getting on the trains.

At most of the stations, only one fare gate will be programmed to allow customers to enter the station. This may be increased to two gates if the station is really busy.

TransLink will also be installing two-metre spaced decals at some bus stops and stations to help guide customers.

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Officials are recommending commuters wear a non-medical mask or face covering while waiting or on board the system.

“Public Health and WorkSafeBC are working with transit agencies to ensure all reasonable steps are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however, it’s clear that maintaining a safe physical distance may not be possible in every situation. We recommend all passengers consider wearing a face covering while using public transit, especially during those instances where physical distancing may not be possible,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said in a release.

TransLink crews will also deploying cleaning staff to disinfect SkyTrain cars at high-traffic stations.

Disinfecting spray schedules will also be increased to twice per week in addition to daily cleaning.

TransLink also expects to restore service across all the systems to full capacity and will monitor passenger loads in order to deploy additional service at times where physical distancing is more difficult.

On May 8, TransLink suspended planned service reductions and the 1,500 layoff notices it was planning to hand out to members.

Last month, TransLink announced a projected budget shortfall of $570 million to $680 million this year.

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Economic recovery task force asks City of Penticton to relax patio regulations, remove permit costs amid COVID-19

The City of Penticton’s economic recovery task force is looking to city council for support to relax patio regulations and remove permit costs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a report to go before city council on Tuesday, economic development specialist Andrew Kemp says it is likely restaurants will only be able to open at half capacity, due to physical distancing guidelines, making it difficult to survive financially.

Kemp suggests the city should remove permit costs and relax design standards for storefront patios and sidewalk retail display areas to encourage businesses to take advantage of outdoor space.

“Utilizing outdoor space, where transmission of virus is much less of a concern, businesses may be able to increase the number of seats,” Kemp said in the report. “In addition, patios and sidewalk uses add vibrancy to the streetscape.”

The task force also recommends tackling property crime issues by promoting safety and security and supporting local bylaw officers and RCMP, as well as bolstering security of the industrial park through a Crime Prevention campaign and promoting recovery efforts through the “Love Local Penticton” campaign.

Slackwater Brewing is also asking for more flexibility when it comes to design regulations for patios. In a letter to council, co-founder Liam Peyton says the city’s building manager has informed him that the fencing around the patio is not in compliance with a local bylaw, even though it passed an occupancy inspection.

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The patio deck is made of cedar and the letter implies a material change would be required to meet current regulations.

“Encouraging patio and al fresco dining appears to be a pillar of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s post-COVID reality, so we feel it is important to maintain our patio, status quo, as a viable option for Penticton diners as relief from restrictions is now on the horizon,” Peyton said.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda, city council will consider sending a letter to B.C.’s attorney general, David Eby, in support of flexible liquor licensing regulations for businesses who are looking to expand their outdoor seating areas as B.C. begins its COVID-19 restart plan.

B.C. will enter phase two of its economic reopening plan on Tuesday, which includes restaurants, retail and personal service establishments. The businesses are allowed to reopen under strict health and safety protocols. Under phase two, people are still asked to stay close to home and avoid non-essential travel between communities.

Health and medical services, such as dentistry, physiotherapy and the re-scheduling of elective surgeries will also resume.

B.C. has no plans to resume large gatherings, including concerts, conferences or professional sports, until a vaccine is available. International travel and tourism will also remain restricted.

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Two Americas in the nation’s capital

Amid political pressure to reopen America from the White House, the nation’s capital city itself still isn’t ready to do so – and Washington DC offers a diverse snapshot of how Americans are responding to the crisis.

It’s a gloriously sunny afternoon, and a rare opportunity to enjoy a live performance from a world-class musician.

Residents of Washington’s Capitol Hill district are still under orders to shelter at home. But they’re taking a break from the pandemic, sitting on front steps and in socially distanced lawn chairs, listening to a neighbour in search of an audience after he had to cancel a tour.

Just down the road at the Capitol building itself, lawmakers are gradually returning to work, to deal with matters less lyrical.

“There can be no doubt that this will be one of the strangest sessions of the United States Senate in modern history,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer when it opened at the beginning of the month.

Members wearing masks sit in chambers that feel more empty than occupied.

But while political pressure to open up the country is mounting in the capital, the city itself isn’t ready yet for business.

You just need to drive 10 minutes to see it’s still on emergency footing. In DC’s majority-black neighbourhoods like Anacostia, the virus has laid bare longstanding social and racial divides.

I caught up with local councillor Trayon White, who’s campaigning for re-election in Ward Eight, Washington’s poorest.

He’s hard to miss – wearing a florescent yellow track suit and surrounded by a team of young men in blue and white camouflage outfits with matching blue surgical gloves. They’re distributing bags with bleach and toilet paper while the councillor hands out masks with his name on them and takes selfies with constituents.

I started right here on this block in this community 36 years ago and God has been with me every step of the way. Thank you to everyone who reached out today to celebrate my birthday .Knowing I have the support of my community means everything to me . For those who registered at trayonforward8.com your tshirt will be here for pick up tomorrow 5/12/20 12 noon 3115 MLK Ave SE. #imwithtray #dosomething

A post shared by Trayon White (@trayonwhite) on

End of Instagram post by trayonwhite

But behind the smiles for the camera is a disturbing reality.

The pandemic is killing black people at an alarming rate, including Mr White’s own grandmother. Eighty percent of the city’s Covid-19 deaths are African Americans, even though they’re less than half its population.

“We have some of the highest health disparities per capita in the country in this community,” he says.

“From high blood pressure to diabetes, to asthma, you name it we have it. So we’re fighting two monsters at the same time. You are talking about the people that are already at the bottom and have been pushed down even further.”

The city has increased testing in predominantly black and Latino neighbourhoods and recruited former First Lady Michelle Obama to record calls to spread the word.

And just this week the mayor, Muriel Bowser, opened a 437-bed field hospital in the convention centre. It’s empty, but she called it an insurance policy. She said the number of confirmed cases was less than initially predicted, but still climbing.

Her cautious approach to reopening, however, means she could be headed for a collision with the capitol region’s largest employer, the federal government. Especially as its most famous resident, President Donald Trump, is pushing to get the nation back to work.

“I hope that the President is right…that we will recover,” Ms Bowser said recently. “All of us want to get open, we just want to do it in a safe way. The last thing we want is to be back here in the fall, having lost all of the gains of social distancing.”

Mr Trump is eager to return to normal, but just around the corner from the White House is the new normal: a venerable Washington institution is serving its own servers, handing out meals to its laid-off employees.

The Ebbitt Grill is the oldest operating restaurant in DC, a favourite watering hole for politicians, now running a bare bones takeaway business. It can’t go on like that for long but it’s wary about reopening.

David Moran, one of the Grill’s senior directors, says areas of the country that “unfortunately” reopen quicker than recommended by guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control could provide a “roadmap of what works and what doesn’t work”.

“Just because the politicians or the government tell you that you can open doesn’t mean you have to open that day,” he says. “I think we’re going to do what’s right by our guests, right by our employees, and right by our integrity.”

Back on the streets of the Capitol Hill neighbourhood, musician Frederick Yonnet is still captivating the curbside crowd. He’s a harmonica player who’s performed with the likes of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Ed Sheeran. Now his stadium is his house, and his audience is his neighbours.

“Thanks to this we are meeting more neighbours than I’ve ever met since I moved here,” he says. “We’ve discovered that some guy over here is an astronaut, another one works for a news network. Music is a universal language and it needs to be spoken, especially in difficult times like this.”

It’s a brief moment of harmony on the Hill, as this tug of war between the need to reopen and the desire to stay safe, plays out beyond them.

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Ridesharing firms urge B.C. to temporarily scrap licence requirements under COVID-19

The biggest ridesharing companies operating in B.C. are calling on the province to ease the Class 4 licence requirements for drivers in a bid to get more drivers on the road.

In a letter sent to Transportation Minister Claire Trevena and obtained by Global News, the companies suggest that a Class 5+ licence could provide short-term work for those out of a job due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has resulted in too many people becoming unemployed, working reduced hours, or just needing an easy and quick way to put food on the table for their families,” reads the letter, signed by Lyft Canada, Whistle!, Uber Canada, Coastal Rides and KABU-Ride Inc.

“Working together, we can make things better for these people.”

The Class 4 licence required to work as a ridesharing driver in B.C. has been contentious.

The all-party MLA committee tasked with setting out regulations for the industry recommended a specific Class 5+ licence catered towards such drivers.

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But Trevena turned it down, opting for the existing commercial Class 4 licence and requiring an additional written and driving test and a physical exam from a doctor.

ICBC has suspended road tests indefinitely under the pandemic.

Lyft and Uber, the world’s largest ridesharing companies, have been operating since January in B.C., after receiving long-awaited approval from the independent Passenger Transportation Board.

The industry argues that an easing of the current licencing requirement can especially help women who have seen greater jobs losses because of the pandemic than men have.

“Ridesharing can give women impacted by COVID-19 immediate opportunities to make money to support themselves and their loved ones,” the letter reads.

A Class 5+ licence could allow drivers to earn money ridesharing after they pass a Class 4 knowledge test but not a road test.

The five companies also suggested using the National Safety Code, which regulates commercial drivers, and allow Class 5 licence holders who have other safety requirements to be on the road so as not to put a “burden” on ICBC.

The letter even suggests reducing the age requirement to 15 years old outside of urban areas.

“We have demonstrated for the past almost four months that we can be relied upon to help connect drivers offering safe and healthy transportation services to essential workers,” the letter reads.

“The next phase of COVID-19 is equally as critical. Ridesharing can provide flexible earning opportunities for all British Columbians and particularly those impacted by COVID-19 job loss.”

BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal says the government’s decision to require class 4 licensing was always a political decision, and not one grounded in the needs of B.C. consumers.

Johal says he has advocated for a class 5+ since the beginning and switching now would provide additional flexibility.

“The NDP have essentially created a system where there are not enough drivers in major cities or no service in smaller communities,”Johal said.

“Beyond ridehailing, the NDP have done nothing to modernize the taxi industry or level the playing field for many struggling taxi owners.”

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Premier again extends B.C.’s state of emergency under COVID-19

B.C.’s premier has extended the provincial state of emergency a third time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now until May 12.

John Horgan told reporters on Wednesday that the province will unveil a plan next week to start easing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan is expected to be done in phases as the province slowly reactivates part of the economy, with a focus on getting the health-care system up and running again first.

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A date is also expected for a full return of kids to school.

More to come

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France coronavirus death toll above 24,000, number of cases tweaked

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people who have died from the coronavirus infection in France rose by 427 to 24,087 on Wednesday, with the rate of increase slightly speeding up again after slowing on Tuesday, the health ministry said in a statement.

According to the ministry, the number of confirmed cases now stands at 128,442, up 1,607 over 24 hours. The figure stood at 129,859 on Tuesday but was tweaked a day after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that France would not end its coronavirus lockdown unless the number of new cases falls below 3,000 per day.

“It’s a statistical readjustment linked to a change in the sampling”, a ministry spokesman said.

The death toll has increased 1.8% over 24 hours, versus 1.6% on Tuesday and 1.9% on Monday. Out of the 24,087 total, 15,053 fatalities occurred in hospitals, a figure up 1.6%, and 9,034 in nursing homes, up 2%.

As Britain added nursing homes deaths to the tally from hospitals to give a total of 26,097 fatalities, it became the third-most affected country in the world behind the United States and Italy and ahead of Spain and France.

The number of people in French hospitals with the COVID-19 infection fell to 26,834 from 27,484 on Tuesday, recording a 2.4% decline, its sharpest since a downward trend began 15 days ago.

The number of people in intensive care fell 4.1% to 4,207, a figure almost half of the 7,148 on April 8 and down for the 21st consecutive day.

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