As the wan winter sun sets over France's Champagne region, the countdown clock kicks in.
Labourers 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 socialising 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," says Champagne producer Alexandre Prat.
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, face 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. restrictions on movement.
The rest of France could quickly follow suit, losing two extra hours of liberty that have been just enough for residents to maintain bare-bones social lives.
Imposing a 6 p.m. curfew nationwide is among options the French government is considering in response to rising infections and the spread of a particularly contagious virus variant that has swept across Britain, where new infections and virus deaths have soared.
Prime Minister Jean Castex could announce a curfew extension Thursday evening, as well as other restrictions, to fight the virus in a country that has seen over 69,000 confirmed virus deaths.
Overnight curfews have become the norm in swaths of Europe but the 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew in 25 regions of eastern France is the most restrictive anywhere in the European Union's 27 nations. Others countries' curfews all start later and often finish earlier.