PARIS – Scenes in Paris looked like a regular lazy weekend morning – light traffic, a few people on the sidewalks. But it was a Friday.
What would normally have been a busy weekday marked the start of a four-week nationwide government-imposed lockdown in France to tackle the resurgence of a coronavirus threatening to flood the country’s healthcare system.
Parisians – along with the rest of this nation of 67 million people – were confined to their homes on Friday, for the second time in seven months, under a presidential decree ratified by Parliament.
Citizens have been ordered to stay in their homes at all times without visitors, or face heavy fines or prosecution. They are allowed out for an hour of exercise per day, or for medical appointments or to buy essentials.
In the popular 10th arrondissement on Friday, sidewalks were generally empty, with only a few passers-by rushing through and clinging to lockdown exception forms – well known since the country’s first lockdown and known simply by their name. French, “attestation”.
Restaurants and cafes were closed, except for those offering take-out, such as the well-lit McDonald’s near the Stalingrad metro station.
The only busy places were the supermarkets, as residents stocked food and essentials.
Many Parisians did not wait four weeks to be confined to their generally cramped apartments.
The highways around the capital became scenes of traffic chaos overnight as residents fled the capital. French media reported that traffic jams stretched for some 700 kilometers (435 miles) in the region around Paris, as many headed for country or family homes with more space.
Many were also leaving for the important All Saints’ Day holidays this weekend.
French President Emmanuel Macron said authorities would be “tolerant” of families returning from vacation on Monday, but otherwise interregional travel is strictly prohibited.