An epidemic among young people aged 18 to 25 in a seaside resort on the Brittany coast crystallizes fears that the the virus is on fire again in France, on the backs of vacationers throwing COVID-19 caution to summer winds.
With 72 infections on Wednesday – mostly among this age group – discovered during a week of furious contact tracing, the Quiberon Peninsula cluster is believed to have come from a summer employee of a partying supermarket with others in a nightclub.
This is becoming a classic case of the virus pitting generations against each other.
The senior regional government official, a former soldier and intelligence officer in his fifties, did not mince words by denouncing “the irresponsibility of young people who are on vacation or who live here, gathering in large numbers for festivities at night, ignoring the danger. ”
The official, Patrice Faure, prefect of Morbihan in Brittany, personally served a two-month closure order on a Quiberon nightclub, the Hacienda Café.
Among the nightclubs where now infected people gathered, it circumvented a nationwide coronavirus ban on nightclubs by converting itself into a late-night waterhole, blocking its dance floor with tables and chairs. bar stools.
The owners told the regional newspaper Ouest-France that they had urged customers to wear masks but also noted: “They are young, on vacation or at summer work, and they have been drinking. They didn’t listen. “
Although authorities insist the epidemic is under control, the peninsula that was once a sardine fishing center has become a flashpoint for fears that France will step back in the epidemic that has infected more than 185,000 people and killed at least 30,200 in the country.
Infection rates are climbing and authorities are warning people are ignoring calls to use common sense as millions cheer the July-August hiatus in the country.
In Paris, nurse Damien Vaillant-Foulquier fears that a second wave of infections will derail the plans that he and his wife, also a nurse, have put in place to join the exodus in mid-August.
His hospital, which managed to empty its intensive care units after weathering the initial wave, is already receiving new COVID-19 patients and asking trainee nurses if they will be there later this summer to work, he said. declared.
“In the hospital, you can feel the arrival of the second wave,” he said. “I am depressed because I feel like people don’t see the danger and have forgotten why we were locked up at home. “
While visiting the French capital recently, “I saw that the bars of the Grands Boulevards had turned into nightclubs, full inside and out, everyone was dancing, no masks, nothing, absolutely no respect for social distancing, ”said Vaillant-Foulquier.
“Young people are often accused of not being responsible, but it’s not just young people. “
Romain Arnal, a 20-year-old student, is among those who have let their hair out – and their guard – in Quiberon. He vacations there every year, meeting a vacation lover he first met at the resort three summers ago.
“When you’re in small groups, with friends, you don’t really pay attention, even if they’re people you’ve just met. We invite each other, without a mask, of course, ”he said.
Worried about the peak of infection, Arnal says he went to a makeshift testing station set up in Quiberon to contain the outbreak, but was foiled by the long lines. Authorities urged everyone to get tested, especially Hacienda revelers. This is a gigantic task on the peninsula, where the population drops from 5,000 to 60,000 in summer.
Quiberon has made it compulsory to wear a mask on some of its busiest streets, joining other holiday towns to go beyond the national requirement for masks in all indoor public spaces. And he slapped nighttime curfews on beaches and public parks, fearing that young people without symptoms could spread the coronavirus to the less healthy.
“I hope, or at least I imagine, that they have no desire to transmit the virus to their parents, their grandparents, their neighbors, uncles and aunts”, declared Faure, the prefect.
“It is extremely inappropriate to party today as it is in 2019.”
Fishing guide Alexandre Lesage, 39, says he feels for the generation he sees trying to have fun at the same places and beaches where he spent his youth, safe from the uncertain future to which are confronted by young people facing a labor market plagued by coronavirus turmoil.
“They are treated like vectors of pests, as if they are totally irresponsible, when in fact they are young at heart,” he said.
“I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes. “