As the second wave grips Europe, France will now plunge back into nationwide lockdown – from midnight tonight
Parisians barely had time to adapt to the couvre-feu (curfew) before Macron’s latest measures took the city by surprise last night. No-one predicted the government’s response would be so forceful.
The new regulations reflect the severity of the situation: 73% of intensive care beds in Paris are now occupied by coronavirus patients. The country risks being “overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first”, he declared. Arguably, the second wave is already well and truly underway.
While rumours have been circulating all week – thanks to a screenshot of a Mairie employee’s private message hinting at a 7pm curfew and limited movement at the weekends – few thought the whole country would return to the drastic measures enforced in the spring. Indeed, it’s the news many of us were dreading. As I sat on a packed terrace in the 1st arrondissement, eating steak and drinking a Côtes du Rhône as any good adopted Parisian should, the gasps were audible. Glasses were put down and cigarettes temporarily stubbed as the livestream from the Elysée, broadcast from less than a mile away, echoed between smartphones.
I’m pretty sure only some of the ruckus was down to everyone ticking off phrases such as sans précédent in Macron Bingo. But jokes aside, this was the moment that collective fears built up over the past few months were realised. The new rules are strict. From midnight on Thursday, April’s restrictions will be reintroduced. For most, this means only leaving the house once a day to exercise or shop for essentials. Schools and factories stay open. Restaurants and bars must close.
It’s a tough blow, but most of all for the hospitality industry. Paris is its restaurants. It’s a city defined by its cafés, bistros and brasseries like no other. Without them, life here is flat: a bit nulle, as Parisians are wont to say.
Restaurateurs’ resilience has already been astonishing. Only last week I joked to my French teacher that the French will just have to learn to eat like Brits. She looked aghast. “We can’t possibly eat before 8.30pm”, she told me, “it’s simply too early.” It didn’t take long for her to be proved wrong. Many businesses have already pivoted to take-out, to delivery, to one-metre distancing, to permanent tables in parking spaces, to all-day dining.
Embracing early-bird specials and glou-glou wines (what we might more inelegantly call those produced to be necked quickly and without much thought) barely presented a challenge. In the space of a week, adapting to the 9pm curfew became an art form. Last orders were taken around 8.20pm, bills handed out near 8.30pm, and terraces thronged until the last possible moment.
Evidently, that’s part of the problem. Since the summer, life has carried on pretty much as usual. Offices have remained open, post-work apéro hours have gone on long into the night and the métro has remained as packed as the quais – riverbank – on the first day of rosé season. Masks have been worn, but often as stylish chin guards or elbow patches. The tradition of la bise hasn’t fully been shaken.
I’ve tried to be careful, to limit my interactions, but like my neighbours, I’ve dined, drunk, travelled within France and spent the odd magical evening on a rooftop watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance. It’s why I fell in love with life here years ago – and why I’m proud to call Paris home. Life here is lived in the moment. Emotion often rules over prudence.
Unfortunately, it turns out this mode de vie might be incompatible with a global pandemic.
Anger at Macron’s government is palpable. It’s not a case of too little too late, but too much too late. Why was the situation allowed to reach this point? Why were punishments for those flouting restrictions over the past months not more consistently enforced? Few bars actually closed their terraces at 10pm. Few offices checked their staff were wearing masks indoors. As is often the case, those who followed their own interpretation of the law took custom from those who were being cautious and conscientious.
For businesses that have been exemplary in following the rules, the impact is heartbreaking. Bookshop Shakespeare and Company, a stalwart of the Parisian literary scene for a century, sent a plea for online orders yesterday after revealing their sales were down almost 80% since March. They’re not alone. Hotels have been struggling to reopen with occupancy rates that barely allow them to cover running costs.
This isn’t to say optimism is waning. Innovation has flourished in Paris over the past few years. In some cases it’s been bolstered by France’s unparalleled state support and generous start-up incentives, in other cases by the creative, rebellious spirit that’s always held sway.
Among those leading the way are new bars like female-owned Dirty Lemon who only opened at the end of 2019. They’ve been forced to abandon a new brunch menu before it even launched, but remain positive. “We will get through it, just like we did the first time”, they say, “we shall see you on the other side, promise!” Up the road, award-winning Belleville bar Combat has shifted to selling branded merch via Instagram.
Given the inevitable tax rises and strikes that will follow de-confinement, I’m glad at least there’ll be somewhere to get a great cocktail.
The next few weeks might be tough, but don’t forget the other trait for which Parisians are renowned: banding together against the world.