On the evening of 12 March 2020, French residents were anxiously anticipating the Presidential televised speech at 20h00. The coronavirus situation in Europe was getting increasingly serious. It had come to a point where the French government had to undertake measures to slow down the spread of virus, following in the footsteps of Italy which started a week before.
That night, the President announced the closure of all schools starting the following Monday, 16 March. Companies were encouraged to allow their employees to work from home. In addition, precautions such as keeping travels to a strict minimum, avoiding gatherings, and maintaining a physical distance of 1 metre from each other, were given. However, that said, it seemed absurd to me that the government decided NOT to call off the first round of municipal elections. It would be held on Sunday, 15 March (all in the name of politics, of course).
A series of new and stricter measures swiftly unfolded after that evening. Two days later, on Saturday evening, the French Prime Minister announced the closure of all public venues that were not critical to the daily functioning of the country. Essentially, everything would be closed except for food stores (supermarkets, markets), pharmacies, news stands, petrol stations and banks.
I suspect one of the reasons that prompted the rapid implementation of the more draconian measures was the frivolous behaviour of the residents. Between 12 and 14 March, a portion of the population threw the President’s advice to the wind as they were keen to enjoy the unexpected appearance of warm and sunny weather. People were strolling and sunbathing with friends and families in the parks, along the beaches and rivers, as if the global coronavirus COVID-19 situation had left France unscathed.
Two days later, on 16 March, Monday evening, the President made his second appearance. It was in this address that he declared “Nous sommes en guerre [We are at war]” six times, at war against the virus. Other than trips to purchase the daily necessities (food and medicines), starting noon the following day and for a minimum of the next 15 days, everyone was to stay home – all activities outside one’s home would thus be further curtailed.
The government released the details of the almost complete lockdown in the following few days. Restrictions included the types of sports allowed (e.g. no cycling, running possible but keep within 1km radius and not more than 1 hour, once a day), and that everyone had to carry a confinement form (must be printed/hand written, signed, date and time stated.). In addition, the police would impose fines on those who flout the confinement laws.
The world will eventually win the war. But when, and at what cost? When will we beat the virus? Will there be another wave of new infections, as we are now seeing new cases reemerging in the past few days in Asia?
The small, local businesses – will they be able to take the hit, despite the promise of the French government to financially support all entreprises, regardless of the cost? The French President hammered this point three different times during his speech on 12 March “Quoi qu’il en coûte [regardless of the cost]”
Will my favourite local bakery still be there when the situation returns to normal? How about the recently opened small pizzeria and Indian take-way eatery, which I have yet to patronise, will they survive this period?
Never have I ever thought that, at a ripe old age of XXX and very fortunate to have only lived in peacetime, I would experience living in these strange times.