Resignation as weary French adjust to new lockdown

Romain FONSEGRIVES, Stuart WILLIAMS
·4-min read

An authorisation that needs to be filled out just to take a bit of fresh of air. Long traffic jams as Parisians tried to leave the French capital before it was too late. Pressure on supermarket shelves for key goods.

After enduring two months of lockdown last spring in a bid to squeeze the coronavirus, there was a weary sense of deja-vu in France on Friday as people contemplated going through it all again for at least a month -- and maybe even to Christmas and beyond. 

The new lockdown added to an already grim mood in France after three attacks in recent weeks blamed on Islamist extremists, the latest the killing of three people inside a church in Nice on Thursday.

There are crucial differences to the new lockdown, most crucially that children will be returning to school after the autumn break, rather than staying home. 

And while nonessential businesses are to close, some were still open on Friday.

At least four shops -- a shoe store, a dry cleaners, a mobile phone store and a Nespresso boutique -- welcomed clients at midday on a busy pedestrian street in the Passy neighbourhood of western Paris.

"For me it's a normal day, it changes nothing," said Hedi Lecaude as he headed to work at his insurance office in Paris, flashing an authorisation from his employer to police as he entered the metro.

- 'One hour, one kilometre' -

There was also a steady flow of traffic around central Paris, even if public transport was less clogged than usual by midday, raising concern among medics over whether the public would take this round of the lockdown seriously.

There were fewer bike riders and joggers around than usual but the atmosphere was more of a lazy Sunday afternoon than the first day of strict stay-at-home orders.

Trains from the provinces back to Paris were busy after President Emmanuel Macron made clear that there would be a grace period so families could return home after the autumn break. 

But in the other direction, hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams formed in Paris late Thursday as worried residents of the capital sought to flee in the hours before the lockdown took effect.

The Sytadin traffic website said there were over 700 kilometres of traffic jams in the Paris region late Thursday, with electronic signs on the Paris ring road bearing grim warnings for drivers of an hour to go before the next exit.

Yet the reality remained that within a space of months France has gone from "confinement" (lockdown), to "deconfinement" as the measures were relaxed over the summer, to "reconfinement".

As previously, the basic rules are simple and strict. Essential workers and employees who cannot work from home can obtain passes for their daily commute.

Others will only be allowed to leave home for other essential reasons -- for example food shopping or medical visits -- or for exercise. These trips should be for no more than one hour and within a one-kilometre radius of their homes, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

And like in spring, every movement outside needs to be justified by filling out an authorisation form, either by hand or online.

- 'Behave like normal' -

Worried social media users posted pictures of supermarket shelves empty of the essentials, but executives insisted there would be no shortages. 

The president of the Intermarche chain, Thierry Cotillard, said his supermarkets had been busier than normal but denied there had been any "hysteria."

Home entertainment and electrical goods giant Fnac-Darty said it was keeping stores open by benefitting from an exemption that allows people to buy goods for home-working. 

According to a poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for France Info and daily Le Figaro, seven out of 10 in France are in favour of the new lockdown. 

"Being able to send the children to school is a big help," said Josephine Weil, a lawyer, as she walked with her son in central Paris, adding she was "resigned" to the reality of the new lockdown. 

But some angry French took to the streets of Paris late Thursday for an unauthorised protest to condemn the new measures as overly drastic. 

"We shouldn't overdo it. From midnight tonight we must all be at home, it's too much," said one protester, who gave her name as Laura.

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