Coronavirus Stories: COVID-19 Lockdown In Paris
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Welcome to Coronavirus Stories. A collection of short stories written by YOU, our readers from around the globe, sharing how their lives have been affected by COVID-19.
Today’s story is written by Laura, an Australian expat living in Paris, France with her young family. She shares how quickly life changed for her and those living in the French capital following the fallout from CoVid-19.
How Paris has changed since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic
Life before coronavirus was just that, life.
Work, school drops-offs and pick-ups, playdates and date nights.
We, like all Parisians, were feeling more than ready for spring after enduring year-long protests from the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) and a 45-day transport strike in January.
Spring in Paris means picnics. Lots of picnics. With bountiful cheese platters and flowing rosé, couples and families flock to the parks and canals of the capital for an all-day snack fest.
But in 2020, we’ve stepped into an alternate reality.
Everyday life stopped within a matter of days. First, the schools shut, then bars, restaurants and other businesses, then outdoor food markets. Now, jogging is prohibited between 10am and 7pm. But in true French style the bakeries have remained open. Not even a pandemic can stop a Frenchie from a pain-au-chocolat.
The day before the confinement started on March 17, about a third of Parisians fled to their country houses.
This spread the disease further across France but some could not face the alternative – most of us live in tiny apartments, often with no garden or natural light. If you’re lucky you have a balcony and a view of the sky. However, this pales in comparison to the challenges in developing nations, struggling for food and shelter, access to education and safety.
As I write today, it has been exactly 28 days since the government announced a complete lockdown of the country. And as of tonight, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a further four-week confinement, taking us to May 11.
Each day, my daughter and I taste sunlight during a permitted one-hour walk outside, within one kilometer of our home. Outside, police and soldiers patrol the streets, stopping people, cars, and even buses. I have occasionally seen them asking people for their “attestation” – a signed and time-stamped document stating why you are outside and where you’re going.
The metro passes over the bridge, and I can make out one or two heads per carriage by the windows. Probably one of our essential workers – people who we took for granted before the deadly coronavirus spread from China to our doorstep.
In the streets, there are surgical gloves strewn everywhere. Every second person wears a mask, surgical or homemade from tea-towels and scarves. Amid a severe shortage of masks, the government initially told us they were useless but weeks on, they are changing their tune and bulk-buying masks to give to the public.
The streets here aren’t completely empty, as it was seen in China. There are people walking with shopping caddies, with dogs, or like me, taking out very pent-up young children for an energy release.
The effect on my three-year-old daughter has been two-fold. She loves having Mummy and Daddy with her all day and thinks homeschool is “so fun”. But I can see glimmers of anxiousness. She says she’s tired and doesn’t want to go outside, she doesn’t want to touch anything dirty because that will mean she’ll have to wash her hands, again. All of our hands are dry and ashy from all the hand sanitizer and perpetual washing. Our skin is dry and itchy, too, thanks to the country’s water suppliers dumping mass amounts of chlorine into our tap water due to COVID-19.
Teachers across the city navigate the murky waters of distance education as they try to maintain some normalcy for their students. For young children, like ours, screen education isn’t fitting, so we spend most of our time creating school activities and crafts while juggling our jobs. Most teachers have been placed on chômage partiel (partial unemployment benefits). They have been told that schools will be the first establishments to open after confinement is over. Many are not happy that they, and the children, will be sent into the fog first.
The way Parisians are reacting varies from person to person. And each person’s emotional well-being varies from day to day. Our amazing neighbours hold a “fête aux balcons” (balcony party) every night for 30 mins, and we dance and wave to the few passers-by who dance in the street. We have begun dressing up, wearing evening wear or silly costumes to bring some smiles. People have offered to pick up shopping, offered kids activities, or help with homework. I am happy to have these kind people around me.
But there is no question that some people are starting to crack. During my daily walk I see, couples bickering in the sunshine, a woman loudly sobs into her phone and countless homeless people argue with an invisible enemy.
One afternoon that I will never forget, I spotted a man pacing in his building’s downstairs lobby with a screaming months-old baby. Losing his cool he screamed into the pram, picking up the baby roughly, jolting him. I screamed, “He’s shaking the baby! He’s shaking the baby!” His spine straightened and he turned to look at me, unaware anyone was watching. He held the baby close to his chest, a look of shock frozen on his face.
Then, there are people who flaunt the rules, like the group of middle-aged men who enjoy espressos in the sun outside my local tabac (newsagent). Or my neighbour across the road, who looks like Pablo Escobar and is partial to a fully-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, who recently hosted an Easter party in his three-storey Parisian house. Ironically, the nearby restaurant he owns has a sign in the window asking for food donations to prepare meals for the hospitals.
While no one would wish this situation into our lives, there are some real and very profound silver linings.
I am spending quality time with my family. I love having my husband around, we cook, parent and exercise together. Evenings are spent doing acroyoga, talking and watching Netflix (we finally got on that bandwagon about week three into confinement!)
Everything is slower. There’s no rush to get my daughter out the door or run to the metro. I have realized what is truly important to me – connection to other people. We used to laugh when people cancelled plans to stay home for ‘Netflix and Chill’ and now we want nothing more than to see the faces of friends and family, to tell them how important they are in making our life, a life.
I have started an early-morning routine to get some alone-time each day. I wake at 6am and enjoy two hours of yoga asana, meditation and simha kriya breathing. This has allowed me to connect and go deeper into my emotional state and patterns. I’ve realized that I am not an island. People are not islands and what we do affects ourselves, others, and the planet.
Now, more than ever, I crave being in nature but I live in a concrete jungle. All the parks and green spaces across Paris are locked off, behind its bars, gorgeous cherry blossoms burst into pink. Every walk outside is precious. I stop to look, really look, at budding plants, at the intricate beauty of grass growing through concrete steps. At the bees squeezing their fat bodies through flowers and the chorus of birds dominating the city’s sound space.
This confinement has made me realize that I am ready to live with less in exchange for more. I am ready to make changes. I hope the world is ready, too. It has to be. We have nowhere left to go, as we sail together in the same boat, headed toward an unknown horizon.
As of April 14, 2020
Confirmed cases: 143, 303
Current deaths: 15,729
Paris COVID-19 Timeline
Feb 14 – France announces the first coronavirus death in Europe, first Covid death outside of Asia.
Feb 28 – France reported 57 cases, more than triple the number from two days earlier.
Mar 12 – President Emmanuel Macron announced on public television that all schools and all universities would close from Monday 16 March until further notice.
Mar 13 – Prime Minister Édouard Philippe banned gatherings of more than 100 people, not including public transport.
Mar 14 – the Prime Minister ordered the closure of all non-essential public places, including restaurants, cafés, cinemas and nightclubs, effective at midnight.
Mar 17 – France imposes a nationwide lockdown (France had more than 6,500 infections with more than 140 deaths)
Mar 27 – Prime Minister Édouard Philippe extended the lockdown until 15 April
Apr 13 – President Macron announced the lockdown would be extended until 11 May
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