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The French government has lifted most COVID-19 restrictions

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

China may have locked down a city of 13 million people. But in France, the government is lifting most COVID restrictions. Starting today, people will be able to take off their masks indoors and won't have to show a vaccine pass to enter public places. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, many are relieved, but not everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: This group of students in Paris' Latin Quarter is exuberant.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: This is amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: OK. We are really happy.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I think it's a good thing. I think everyone's over that.

BEARDSLEY: We are free for the first time in two years, they say. Starting today, the only place they'll have to wear their mask is public transport, hospitals and retirement homes. France has had some of Europe's toughest restrictions. You had to show complete vaccination to enter restaurants, cafes, cinemas or planes and trains. Since last November, a negative test was not sufficient. The tough restrictions largely pushed people to get vaccinated. France has one of the world's highest vaccination rates, over 80%. Though, as student Anna Lopez (ph) attests, the system wasn't infallible.

ANNA LOPEZ: I have my pass. I can take a screenshot. And I can send it to some friends who are not vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: Yeah. And everyone do that.

LOPEZ: And they can use it. And no one know if you use the good one or not.

BEARDSLEY: Health officials said restrictions would be lifted if the incidence rate, the number of new cases per 100,000, stayed below 500. Today, it's at 546. New infections were up 20% in the last week to 73,000, leaving many to wonder if the lifting of restrictions a month ahead of the presidential election is more about politics than health.

(Non-English language spoken).

ANIS BOUSSAID: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Taxi driver Anis Boussaid (ph) says he'll be keeping his mask on.

BOUSSAID: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: "I'll keep wearing it out of precaution for my older clients," he says, "because this car is a closed environment. I think we're lifting restrictions too quickly."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

SOPHIE NGO: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Over the weekend, restaurateur Sophie Ngo (ph) scanned a last vaccine pass QR code on a cellphone. She says it was complicated to do when the restaurant was busy, but clients always complied. Still, she says, many stayed away because they didn't want to have to get that third dose to keep their vaccine pass valid. So will the lifting of restrictions mean better business? Not necessarily, she says. No one cares about COVID anymore. But now there's the war in Ukraine.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.