PARIS – As the wan winter sun sets over France's Champagne region, the countdown clock kicks in.
Laborers stop pruning the vines as the light fades at about 4:30 p.m., 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 p.m. coronavirus curfew.
Forget about any after-work socializing 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 p.m., life stops,” Champagne producer Alexandre Prat said.
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, are living under 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. restrictions on movement. At 12 hours, the curfew is the longest anywhere in the European Union's 27 nations.
Starting Saturday, the rest of France will follow suit. The prime minister announced Thursday an extension of the 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew to cover the whole country, including zones where the nightly deadline for getting home hadn't started until 8 p.m.
French shops will have to close at 6 p.m. Outdoor activities will stop, with the exception of quick walks for pets. Workers will need employers' notes to commute or move around for work after curfew.
The village where retiree Jerome Brunault lives alone in the Burgundy wine region is also in one of zones already shutting down at 6 p.m. The 67-year-old says his solitude weighs more heavily without the opportunity for early evening drinks, nibbles and chats with friends, the “apero” get-togethers so beloved by the French that were hurried but still feasible when curfew started two hours later.
“With the 6 p.m. curfew, we cannot go to see friends for a drink anymore,” Brunault said. “I now spend my days not talking to anyone except for the baker and some people by phone.”
An earlier curfew combats virus transmission “precisely because it serves to limit social interactions that people can have at the end of the day, for example in private homes,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal says.
In France, critics of the 6 p.m. curfew say the earlier time actually crams people together more after work, when they pile onto public transportation, clog roads and shop for groceries in a narrow rush-hour window before they must be home.
Women's rugby coach Felicie Guinot says negotiating rush-hour traffic in Marseille has become a nightmare. The city in southern France is among the places where the more contagious virus variant has started to flare.
“It's a scramble so everyone can be home by 6 p.m.,” Guinot said.
Brazil city evacuatining patients
SAO PAULO – Dozens of COVID-19 patients in the Amazon rainforest's biggest city will be flown out of state as the local health system collapses, authorities announced Thursday as dwindling stocks of oxygen tanks meant some people were starting to die breathless at home.
Doctors in Manaus, a city of 2 million people, were choosing which patients to treat, and at least one of the city's cemeteries asked mourners to line up to enter and bury their dead. Patients in overloaded hospitals waited in despair throughout the day as oxygen cylinders arrived to save some, but came too late for others.
The strains prompted Amazonas state's government to say it would transport 235 patients who depend on oxygen but aren't in intensive care units to five other states and the federal capital, Brasilia.