France savoured a fresh sense of freedom Thursday as people were allowed to remove face masks when outside for the first time since last autumn and Disneyland Paris welcomed visitors after an eight-month Covid hiatus.
The easing of coronavirus rules came as authorities hailed a rapid decline in new cases on the eve of summer holidays, raising hopes for a more vibrant and relaxed tourist season.
"I'm happy, it frees us a little bit," said Aicha Drame, a student in the capital, where roughly half of pedestrians on many busy streets enjoyed the new-found freedom.
"We're getting back to normal and it feels good," she told AFP.
The nationwide curfew of 11 pm will be lifted ahead of schedule on Sunday, the government announced Wednesday, reinforcing a sense that France's vaccination drive is starting to pay off.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said 60 percent of adults have now received at least one Covid jab, and youths 12 and over are now eligible as well.
But he urged people to continue wearing masks outdoors, in particular in crowded areas. "It doesn't mean you can't wear it, if you want to protect yourself," he told BFM television.
Miriam Rofael, an American lawyer visiting from California, continued to wear a mauve mask that matched her top as she crossed a bridge over the Seine.
"I trust the science and I trust that I'm protected," she said, but acknowledged that "It is easier if it's hot, not to have to wear it."
Camille Wodling, a photographer, was not only savouring the sun at a table outside a cafe.
"Seeing strangers without a mask, you want to stop and take a good look at their face. And then you see smiles, it's good to see people smile," she said.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse led the re-opening party for hundreds of families at Disneyland Paris, Europe's biggest tourist attraction, which has been shut since October 30.
For the past weeks one of the park's conference centres has served as a mass Covid vaccination site.
As costumed park employees danced and sang, others walked through the crowds carrying reminders to keep at least one metre (three feet) from others.
Masks remain required wearing as well, even on the vast boulevards stretching between rides, and attendance has been capped for now.
"I've really been looking forward to the opening of Disney, the joy, seeing people smile again -- there are still masks but it's really, really great to be here," said Cynthia Castanier, who made the journey from the eastern suburbs of Paris.
For Lea Leroux, who lives in Paris, it was the perfect day to rediscover "the magic of Disney, this world all its own."
"It's incredibly important for everyone -- we need to get back to life almost as normal, with some changes maybe but we need to be here," she said.