PARIS – Spring used to be a time for strolling along the Seine and people-watching from sun-drenched terraces.
On Friday, however, Paris woke up to a very different spring ritual: the pandemic lockdown.
This blockade is less severe than the one that paralyzed France a year ago. It is limited to Paris and 15 other regions in France that have been severely affected by the spread of Covida-19 variants. Parisians are allowed to drive 10 kilometers from home with a permit, unlike last year when the limit was one kilometer.
But the third blockade of France is perhaps the most demoralizing. The country looks abroad with envy, where vaccines are being developed in record time and deployed so rapidly in the United States and Great Britain that France is beginning to wonder if it, too, is on the verge of an economic renaissance.
Instead, Paris’ cafes and bistros are closed indefinitely. The Louvre is sealed. The Eiffel Tower is empty. And the waiting list for vaccines is very long.
My sister lives in New York – she’s vaccinated, and she’s younger than me, says Cyril Dunn, a 54-year-old leather worker. In France, there are still vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated. I know 85-year-olds who are still waiting to meet.
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed staff at a hospital in Poissy, near Paris, on Wednesday.
Yoan Valat/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The management of the crisis has been particularly irritating for many French people. The former investment banker was a strong supporter of the European Union’s decision to jointly purchase vaccines, an approach that has led to vaccine shortages in France and across the continent. By Friday, only 8% of the French population had received a single dose of the Covid 19 vaccine and only 3% had been fully vaccinated.
Mr Macron is also fuelling scepticism about a vaccine developed by Oxford University and the European Environment Agency.
PLC, which many European health authorities consider crucial to reversing the pandemic.
In late January, Macron told a group of journalists that the vaccine would be ineffective for those over 65, without providing any evidence to support his claim. In early March, his government then scrapped the course and allowed it only for the elderly, before suspending use of the vaccine this week following reports that people who had received it in other parts of Europe had developed rare blood clots and some had died.
On Thursday, Mr. Macron’s prime minister,
said the country will start using the AstraZeneca vaccine again after the EU health agency declared that the vaccine is safe, effective and does not increase the risk of blood clots. Castex received the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday to reinforce the government’s message.
This zigzagging has added to the confusion in a country that has dealt with vaccine failures in the past.
I don’t understand why they stopped, said Eric Vigor, a 52-year-old banker. If I could get a vaccine, I would get it without hesitation…. even at AstraZeneca.
Jean Benmoussa, a 74-year-old pensioner who lives in the suburb of Saint-Mandé, east of Paris, said the millions of people who have already taken the vaccines have convinced him of their safety, not the government.
It was the same for everything. The entire management of the pandemic has been a breeze, he said.
By waiting until the spring to impose a lockdown, Macron also delayed the possibility of reopening the French economy.
Frustration is particularly high over Mr Macron’s approach to the recent impasse. He rejected the council’s request to close Paris in the middle of winter, when it is freezing and variants of the virus are starting to spread across the country.
The Paris hospital system is now overloaded, forcing authorities to move patients to areas with fewer cases. Across the country, intensive care units are at 83% of their capacity.
While he has waited until spring to impose a lockdown, Macron has also delayed the possibility of reopening the French economy. French officials said they expect the blockade to reduce France’s gross domestic product by 0.2 percent this year.
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This is a bitter pill to swallow for businesses across the country that have been closed since November. When France emerged from its second lockdown in mid-December, Mr. Macron decreed that restaurants and bars should remain closed to limit social interaction. The same rule applies to museums, concert halls and other places of assembly.
The lack of progress in lifting restrictions is more important for the economy, said Andrew Cunningham, European chief economist at Capital Economics, who expects French economic output to grow strongly in the second quarter. One would expect that at this point governments would be preparing to relax the restrictions, or would even be in the process of doing so.
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For now, Parisians are learning to curb their springtime enthusiasm. At the beginning of the month, Parisians flocked to the banks of the Seine in warm, enchanting weather. The national police, which falls under the central government, responded by sending columns of police to clear the riverbanks.
Mayor of Paris
found the operation shocking, adding that the Government had acted without informing them in advance.
You can intervene when people are not alienated or when they drink without a mask. But the scenes I saw were not like that, Hidalgo said. There were many parents with strollers, people who wanted to go for a walk.
According to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, withdrawing from public health interventions is risky because cases can stabilize and then recover, as has happened in Europe.
E-mail Stacey Mayhtree at email@example.com and Matthew Dalton at Matthew.Dalton@wsj.com.
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