PARIS – Spring was once a time to stroll along the Seine River and people-watch from the sun-drenched terraces.
On Friday, however, Paris woke up to what has now become an entirely different rite of spring: a pandemic-induced lockdown.
This blockade is less severe than the original one that paralyzed France a year ago. It is limited to Paris and 15 other areas in France that have been heavily affected by the spread of Covid-19 variants. Parisians are allowed to venture 10 kilometers from their homes with a permit, unlike last year when the limit was one kilometer.
But France’s third blockade is perhaps the most demoralizing. The country has looked abroad with envy as vaccines were developed in record time and deployed with such speed in the US and UK that France began to wonder if it was also on the cusp of economic renewal.
In contrast, cafes and bistros in Paris are closed indefinitely. The Louvre is sealed. The Eiffel Tower is deserted. And the line for vaccines is very long.
“My sister lives in New York, she was vaccinated and she is younger than I am,” said Cyril Dunn, a 54-year-old leather craftsman. “In France there are still vulnerable people who have not been vaccinated. I know 85-year-olds who are still waiting for a date. “
President Emmanuel Macron’s handling of the crisis has been particularly irritating to many French people. The former investment banker has been adamant about sticking with the European Union’s decision to collectively procure vaccine supplies, an approach that has led to vaccine shortages in France and the rest of the continent. As of Friday, only 8% of the French population had received a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and only 3% had been fully vaccinated.
Macron has also fueled skepticism of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC that many European health authorities consider crucial in turning the tide of the pandemic.
In late January, Macron told a group of journalists that the vaccine was almost ineffective for people over 65, without providing evidence to back up his claim. His government then reversed the course in early March, authorizing it for use in older people, only to suspend use of the vaccine this week after reports that people who had received it in other parts of Europe developed blood clots. rare and some had died.
On Thursday, Macron Prime Minister Jean Castex said the country would resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European Union health agency said it was safe and effective and did not increase the risk of blood clots. . Mr. Castex received the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday to reinforce the government’s message.
The zigzag has deepened confusion in a country that has a history of doubt about vaccines.
“I don’t understand why they stopped,” said Eric Vigor, a 52-year-old banker. “If I could get vaccinated, I would do it right away, with AstraZeneca as well.”
Jean Benmussa, a 74-year-old retiree living in the eastern Paris suburb of Saint-Mandé, said that the millions of people who had already had the vaccines convinced him the injections were safe, not from the government.
“It has been the same with everything. The entire management of the pandemic has been nonsense, ”he said.
Frustrations are particularly high over Macron’s focus on the latest lockdown. He rejected calls by city officials to blockade Paris in the depths of winter when the weather was icy and variants of the virus were beginning to spread across the country.
Now the Paris hospital system is on the brink, forcing authorities to move patients to areas with fewer cases. Intensive care units nationwide are 83% full.
By waiting until spring to impose a lockdown, Macron has also delayed the possibility of reopening France’s economy. French officials said they expected the shutdown to cut France’s gross domestic product 0.2% this year.
That’s a bitter pill for businesses across the country that have been closed since November. When France emerged from its second lockdown in mid-December, Macron stipulated that restaurants and bars should remain closed to reduce social contact. The same rule applies to museums, concert halls, and other places where people gather.
“What matters most to the economy is the lack of progress towards lifting the restrictions,” said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics, who expected a large increase in French economic output in the second quarter. “We had anticipated that by now governments would be preparing to ease restrictions, or even doing so.”
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For now, Parisians are learning to curb their spring enthusiasm. Earlier this month, Parisians flocked to the banks of the Seine amid a period of warm weather. The national police, which reports to the central government, responded by sending columns of police to the riverbanks to clean them up.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said the operation was shocking, adding that the government acted without informing her in advance.
“You can intervene when people are not socially distancing themselves or when they drink without masks. But the scenes I saw were not like that, ”said Ms. Hidalgo. “There were a lot of parents with strollers, people who went out for a walk.”
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