As France emerges from 2 months of grueling isolation, Macron hopes to regain the trust of citizens


Caricature on the front page of France’s most prestigious newspaper, Le Monde, May 6 says it all.

The patient, wearing a mask and lying on the couch of a psychiatrist, was asking an anguished question. “Why, why, did I choose the date of May 11? “

The patient is actually French President Emmanuel Macron. He is not the only head of government to feel the pressure.

The white spot in the beard of the country’s Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, seems to have doubled since the foreclosure of France almost eight weeks ago.

During this period, more than 26,000 French people died from COVID-19. There have been over 137,000 cases, placing France fourth in Europe after the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain for cases and deaths.

May 11 is the day when the country cautiously relaxes its strict locking rules.

Macron’s cartoon anxiety comes from several sources – the battle against COVID-19, which many have criticized for having started far too late, as well as concern that with the virus still burning on government maps of the region Parisian, deconfinement could release more death.

Strict locking

For eight weeks, no one, except medical workers and those in essential jobs, was allowed to leave their homes for more than an hour and more than one kilometer. And they had to arm themselves with a certificate from the Home Office, downloaded and printed or on their phones, stating why they left and at what time – or face a fine.

The police applied these rules, and with force. According to statistics from the French Interior Ministry as of April 23, there have been more than 15 million police checks and 915,000 fines. And the fines are heavy – 135 euros (around CAN $ 205).

That means around 12,350,000 euros ($ 18.6 million), according to the government. will go to French hospitals.

A police officer checks that a self-certified note from a woman is outside before a two-minute commemoration near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last month. French police imposed 915,000 fines for violating the national quarantine. (Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)

A few days before the closure ended, I saw five police officers on bicycles surrounding an 85-year-old boy. He had no certificate but protested that he was simply going to the doctor next door. He was warned, but was not fined.

A couple of friends were not so lucky. One was fined for queuing outside a store with his nine-year-old daughter – the girl did not have her official papers.

Another friend was fined for sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. Prohibited. She protested that she had her certificate and that she was over 70 years old and resting simply because she had a bad leg. She was still fined.

She was not happy. “Abuse of small power,” she said. She is attractive.

New controls

With reconfinement, certificates will no longer be required. And instead of a kilometer, people will be able to travel up to 100 km from their home.

Trains and the Paris metro will resume service at 50% of pre-pandemic levels. There will be strict checks on numbers, and passengers will have to wear masks on all public transport.

Elementary schools will open, although up to half of parents in many areas say they refuse to send their children right away. But the beaches from Brittany to the Mediterranean will remain closed, causing public mumbles even by Macron’s allies.

The entrance to the closed Le Procope restaurant in Paris. Restaurants and cafes will remain closed until June. (Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images)

“This is a blow,” Didier le Gac, a Breton MP from Macron’s party, told Le Figaro newspaper. Le Gac wondered why Parisians could board a crowded metro car, but his constituents could not walk on nearby beaches.

Shops will reopen, but restaurants and cafes will remain closed until June. I discovered that the fishmonger in the open-air market, which had been closed for two months, had taken delivery of its goods every Saturday at customer doors.

Like many cafes and restaurants in Paris, the restaurant in front of me sells fresh produce from its agricultural suppliers through the back door.

The owner also prepares one take-out dish per day. One day recently, he called the cook to hurry up with the grilled duck. It was the client’s birthday. An assistant cook rushed in with two glasses of wine for the waiting couple.

Wine keeps well, but beer does not. The French association of brewers announced that it had poured 10 million liters of beer – four Olympic swimming pools – into the sewers.

The lock also released a poison of anxiety. I know friends who are too scared to go out and wash the railings, handrails, shoes and even the packages brought to their door with bleach every day.

People sit and walk along the Saint-Martin canal in Paris on Friday, the 53rd day of isolation in France and three days before the start of the relaxation of restrictions. (Christophe Archambault / AFP / Getty Images)

Save the economy

But the government is also worried about the imminent death of the French economy during this crisis. Officially, the country has lost 500,000 jobs. The number of unemployed rose to 3.17 million.

In desperation, the French government has paid $ 120 billion ($ 182 billion) in subsidies to businesses, largely to ensure that they continue to pay employees.

Macron has engaged in three major struggles in the past 18 months – against the “yellow vests”, the spontaneous front of the poor who struggle in provinces that feel abandoned by the government; against public service unions, which launched weeks of strikes against pension reforms that would cut payments to many of their members; and now against COVID-19.

While the government was politically injured in each of these battles, the fight against the virus has caused particularly serious damage. In February, there was a feeling of horror at what was happening in Italy, but also the comfortable conviction that it could not happen in France.

Then he did, and the country discovered that his government was as ill-prepared as that of Italy.

For eight weeks, no one, except medical workers and those in essential jobs, was allowed to leave their home for more than an hour. (The Associated Press)

Public anger was central to the lack of masks and protective equipment for frontline health workers. This anger only intensified when Le Monde revealed that, as the crisis deepened in February, government officials were still destroying the stocks of masks as part of a plan agreed in 2017.

This helps explain why an international poll by French polling companies Cevipof and IPSOS-Sopra Steria shows that 62% of French people are unhappy with the way their government has treated COVID-19.

This is a higher level of dissatisfaction than in other European countries, including Italy and even Britain, which has the highest number of deaths in Europe.

Another bad news for Macron: his personal poll numbers, which rebounded at the start of the crisis, are declining. Only 40% say they are satisfied with his leadership.

A pharmacist in Nice, France, serves a client behind protective screens newly installed on May 2. (Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images)

“We have to ride the tiger”

The besieged president is now looking for colorful metaphors to convince his fellow citizens of the need to continue his fight as the country carefully opens its doors.

“We must get on the tiger and tame it,” he told representatives of French cultural industries on May 6, promising them hundreds of millions of grants. ” The Tiger [the virus] will not go away, it will always be there. And fear will always be there in society. The only way to stop the tiger from devouring us is to ride it. ”

The concern over a second wave of infection is still so great that 40% of the country remains a “red zone” (where the infection rate is still high) on government maps – and that includes Paris.

Macron, center, has come under heavy criticism for managing the COVID-19 epidemic in France. (AFP via Getty Images)

There will be little break in this area. The parks will remain closed. The distance must be respected. Vulnerable people, people over the age of 70 and people with chronic illnesses are encouraged to stay confined.

And the Prime Minister has declared that the country’s borders will remain closed during the summer. There will be no overseas vacation for anyone.

Cafes and restaurants may be allowed to reopen by June, but the owner of the restaurant across the street will not mind, even if authorized. The rules, he said, will be strict – with thorough disinfection and cleaning and remote tables.

He will continue to sell his daily meal and vegetables through the back door until the fall.

“Then we will reopen,” he said. “And we will see. “

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