Our apocalyptic reality here in France is getting severe by the minute.
March 2020, Paris, France:
With the spread escalating and the number of infected people growing I've decided to stop going to large social meetups. There were tons of confusion and uncertainty going on: different European events (held in France and in its neighboring countries) were sending confirmation emails, but by the next day or two changing their mind. Sometimes big and largely anticipated expositions got canceled only with a one day notice. That put many people into difficult situations, namely those who had already booked non-refundable flights,trains and hotels (at that point, cancellation of gigs, concerts, exhibitions, etc., was a mere recommendation and there was not yet an official ban on traveling. Getting a refund proved difficult and perhaps even unfair to the accommodating establishments). To summarize, companies lost billions like this and some individuals lost quite a sum, too. But, we all knew, from Italy's and China's sad examples, there's no other way around.
Meanwhile the death toll was skyrocketing in Italy and more and more cases were appearing in France. Unlike Bordeaux (major travel destination), where the first patient in France was discovered, the news of the confirmed cases in Oise (a peaceful commute north from Paris) and Mulhouse (a small industrial city in the east) quite shook me. Those places are everything but a known tourist destination and the infected patients claimed that they came in no contact with anybody from Italy or China. How could the virus reach there?!
Later on the week (still first week of March), the French government announced that it recommends NOT to hold any gatherings with more than 5,000 attendants. I was scheduled to go to an important business expo in my industry, which had about 3,000 registered visitors. A couple of days before the date, I've received a confirmation email from the organizers that the event will be held as planned.
Several days afterwards (second week of March) the government re-announced that all events and expositions should be postponed or canceled all over across France, regardless of the number of visitors, because we are getting in a deep shit.
12th March, Thursday morning, I happened to talk to a nurse who said that the French President Macron plans to close all schools from following week's Monday. I've heard nothing from my kids' school's management, despite the rumors going on for a few days, so I could only take the nurse's words as another speculation.
That day, at 8pm, President Macron has carried a speech in which he announced the nation-wide closure of all education facilities starting Monday, March 16.
Macron has also strongly recommended for all to avoid social gatherings, unnecessary outings and non-urgent meetings.
I listened to Macron's speech, and while I've been guessing the content of his message before he started speaking, by the end of his speech I felt extremely uneasy. Yes, I knew that we will be going into a lockdown in the like of China and Italy, but somehow my consciousness kept burring that piece of notion deep down inside of me. With Macron's official words, my "pink glasses" shuttered and my "all is fine in here" bubble has burst.
13th March, Friday morning. After a brief family debate, we sent our kids for their "pre-lockdown" day of school. On one hand, we realized that the virus won't wait for Macron's official school closure starting day and that the infection might be spreading in the school already. But on the other hand, we worried our kids might miss out on some important assignments and briefing that the school might conduct. With repeated instructions of washing hands and avoiding being coughed on, we (just like most of the parents) sent the kids to school.
Looking back, I regret it. Luckily, my kids haven't gotten infected that day (nor on previous days) but with the several children-deaths reports that followed in the next days, I shudder at the thought of how careless we used to be.
At the same time, how could one self-quarantine when no one else is following? Prior to the president's speech, no one knew for sure whether the schools would close. Keeping a healthy child at home and depriving him from education for god knows how long would set him to failure and might even alert the child protection services (schooling here is mandatory).
That morning I also inevitably dashed out to buy essential food. Unfortunately many had the same thoughts as me and many were panic-buying. Pasta, rice, flour and oil was purchased in large quantities. Some shelves had little to no stock.
After the kids' school pick up in the evening, we hurried back home. We were quite puzzled seeing many families gather at our local playground. Didn't they hear the news?
The weekend came and people were out and about as if nothing has changed. The streets and parks even felt more crowded than usual. People didn't seem to take Macron's words seriously. And that pissed Macron greatly. The next week's announcement by the government was much harsher: on Monday, a whole set of rules was issued, taking effect on March 17th (following day) with fines up to 137 euros for those who won't obey:
Closure of all "non-essential" shops and establishments, such as restaurants, museums, cinema, etc., and only leaving food and drug stores open (that led to quite some confusion: what about the stores "in between" such as restaurants who also do deliveries? Should household item stores that also have a drink and snacks fridge shut or keep operating? and so on).
Closure of schools will remain for at least 15 days.
Workers should not come to their office unless they are medical staff, cashier workers and other absolutely essential personnel that cannot work from home.
Public transportation should be only used for workers who must go to work and people who have urgent doctor appointments.
Going out is only allowed for walking the dog, urgent doctor visit, brief exercise and buying groceries.
All non-urgent doctor appointments, such as annual check-ups, etc., should be postponed/canceled.
People must stand 1 meter away from each other.
And as Macron already understood that people only obey under harshly forced order, he announced that going out for the permitted reasons would be possible ONLY with the printed and signed document below.
He dispatched 100,000 police and army officers to patrol around and fine anybody WITHOUT the printed and correctly filled paper (must include name, date of birth, address, marked reason of exit, date, signature and the hour of exiting home).
Not all people have printers at home, so that caused lots of further uncertainty and speculations of how serious one should take it. Some wondered whether they can copy and write this paper by hand, some suggested to fill the fields with pencil or erasable pen to reuse the same paper (not allowed), some were taking photo of the paper on their phone and trying to fill the fields through different apps (not allowed as at that time there wasn't an official way to do it). All in all, in the first few days police reported to have fined several hundreds of people.
Then I read reports from other countries: according to The Guardian, Kenyan patrol shot and killed a 13 year old boy on his balcony while trying to enforce the quarantine and Indian authorities were spraying workers with some chemicals in attempt to disinfect (?) them. For all those harrowing imagines go to the full article here.
With the end of March approaching, President Emmanuel Macron has significantly raised the number of patrol. Police were moving around even on the "boring" residential backstreets, to make sure everything seemed in order. Number of issued fines were growing accordingly.
The biggest problem, apart from being confined to our homes (not much of a problem for those with gardens or large houses - very much of a problem for those in tiny apartments with large families), was that people were panic buying like crazy and throughout the month. Apart from alcohol gel, the number one sought after item turned out to be toilet paper. I think it's because people were shitting themselves after hearing all the quarantine rules.
The next "trend" was to purchase all the eggs one could get their hands on. Why?! Chickens weren't getting extinct due to Coronavirus or any other disease.
We weren't going crazy with shopping and at times found ourselves eating just whatever was left in the store (snacks, whichever unpopular cheese...the "good stuff" and basic items were sometimes completely gone). Supermarkets were constantly telling people to stop worrying and only buy when and what's needed. France wasn't about to run out of food. But we know people, right? It's hard to resist the temptation to hoard when everyone else is emptying all your surrounding supermarkets' shelves. And the collective excuse is "I'm not panic-buying, I'm just making sure my family has a "sufficient" stock because everyone else here is panic buying". Makes sense, right?
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