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A man wears a face mask as he walks past a restaurant in Saint Jean de Luz, southwestern France, Thursday, December 30, 2021. The French government this week announced new measures to combat the spread of the virus as France reported a record 208,000 new infections on Wednesday. Wearing a mask is already compulsory in shops, public establishments, office buildings and public transport throughout France. (AP Photo / Bob Edme)

PA

No need to snack, bite and sip at the movies in France anymore: the country’s increasingly fierce fight against an unprecedented rise in coronavirus infections puts an end to eating and drinking in French cinemas, just as they show signs of recovery from the brutal economic denigration of lockdowns last year.

The COVID-19 measures coming into effect on Monday, once the New Year’s celebrations in France are over, will mean a forced rest for popcorn machines and ice cream left in cold storage. The ban of at least three weeks of eating and drinking also applies to theaters, sports halls and public transport.

For movie owners hoping to attract moviegoers who switched to home viewing during the pandemic, not being able to tempt them with candy and non-alcoholic drinks is another big blow. French cinemas sold 96 million tickets in the eight months of their reopening this year, a jump of 47% from 2020. But ticket sales are still down 55% from 2019, ahead of the pandemic , according to the National Center for Film and Animated Image said Thursday in its look at the annual sales of French cinemas.

Benoit Ciné Distribution, which supplies 70% of French cinemas with popcorn, sweets and drinks, was inundated with both postponed orders and delivery requests from cinemas expecting good sales last week. -end before the eating and drinking ban, with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Matrix Resurrections” appearing on billboards.

“It’s like telling them to apply the emergency brake on the high-speed train,” said Vincent Meyer, manager at Benoit.

Against the raging coronavirus infections, the government hopes its latest measures will also curb the rapidly spreading omicron variant, but without derailing France’s economic recovery which is pushing President Emmanuel Macron, threatened with re-election in April, to vote.

In addition to the ban on eating and drinking, there will once again be limits on the number of crowds in public places, with no more than 2,000 allowed indoors and 5,000 outdoors. The limits do not apply to campaign rallies, infuriating some musicians who will no longer be allowed to perform in front of standing crowds. Some have suggested, only half-jokingly, that they could rename their concerts as political rallies.

The death toll from COVID-19 in France already stands at more than 123,000 people. New infections are higher than ever before and hospitals are again overloaded with seriously ill people. Many health experts had called for tougher measures than those announced by the government this week, with some pushing for further school and business closures. France reported 206,243 other coronavirus infections on Thursday, slightly less than the record of 208,000 cases set on Wednesday.

Michel Enten, manager of the Le Fontenelle cinema in the town of Marly-le-Roi west of Paris, said he was relieved to remain open, even if he will no longer be able to sell cotton candy, popcorn, ice cream and drinks. He says he lost about half of his customer base during the pandemic. He expects the food and drink ban to hit large theaters particularly hard and says it may even help draw fans to smaller, more artistic theaters like his.

“There are a lot of people who hate hearing the sound of popcorn in auditoriums,” he said. run to the movies. ‘”

Moviegoers said they understand the need for further measures, though some struggled to see any logic in not being able to satisfy their sweet cravings in cinemas or theaters when restaurants are still allowed. to serve food and drink.

“It’s going to be weird to just go to the movies and go without all these little moments,” said Vincent Bourdais as he stood in line at Marly-le-Roi for “Spiderman.”

“Often, when we imagine the cinema, we think of the room, the beautiful posters, the popcorn, the smells.”

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