We’re sure living in interesting times, no? It appears “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”, and to prove it, I’m now residing in France, an early coronavirus epicenter.
I was planning to spend the entire month of March in Lyon, France. Then the French restrictions came down and that plan went out the window. I was in Paris last weekend visiting my friend, Marti, just as the measures to reduce public gatherings were announced. That announcement last Saturday, shuttering cafes and other non-essential businesses, throughout France was astounding here, if prudent.
On the street that morning in Marti’s neighborhood, people were out and about, but there was definitely a somber mood in the air. There were lots of well-behaved shoppers queued up at the grocery stores and bakeries. Yes, the toilet paper aisle was cleaned out, but there was still plenty of wine to go around. Pharmacies had no hand-sanitizer or wipes, of course.
Riding to the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Monday at midday revealed all the closed cafes, with their traditional sidewalk chairs and tables stacked inside, and no sign of life at Burger King or McDonald’s.
No sooner had I gotten back to Lyon than additional restrictions were announced. People here were not taking the need to voluntarily isolate seriously (there were pictures online of large groups of people congregating in parks and along the river front) so the government clamped down harder.
All public gatherings were banned and gathering places, such as public parks, closed. Public transportation services have been reduced to the minimum. Grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices could remain open – everything else had to close. People were ordered to remain at home and self-isolate, teleworking was mandated, for 15 days. I love the fact that book stores are considered essential and remain open.
They say 100,000 police and security officers across France have been mobilized to stop and interrogate anyone found on the street or at roadblocks about why they’re not at home. There’s an official form you can download and print that describes the five acceptable reasons for being on the street (grocery shopping, going to doctor, etc.) and you must show this form if asked. Failure to do so can result in fines up to €150. In addition, France closed its borders to any non-citizens or non-residents trying to enter.
So, a lot of things were happening very quickly. The announcement of the further restrictions came Monday night and went into effect Tuesday morning. As you may know, airline companies have been hit very hard by all of this and are struggling. This resulted in my British Airways flight from Lyon to London Tuesday being cancelled, along with almost all other BA flights. The French rail system reduced the number of its trains. Naturally, in this Golden Age of information via the Internet, it’s often hard to get accurate information when you need it, especially in a crisis. I found it very hard to tell which transportation modes were still operating Tuesday and whether they would still be doing so the next day.
The U.K. was making noises about more restrictions so going on to Bristol by any means seemed like it might be a poor choice if the U.K. was locked down like France. I considered just flying from Paris back to the U.S. but there were almost no direct flights, and any connecting flights did so in suspect places, like Frankfurt. I say suspect because Germany had already closed its borders, so how was a flight going to connect in Frankfurt? In addition, the stories coming out about the chaos in U.S. airport Arrivals halls were awful. Did I really want to fly into a “virus incubator” and spend hours standing with hundreds of other people, all jammed together?
I thought not. So I got back in touch with Marti and she has kindly let me join her in Paris, for the duration. I have about three months on my tourist visa here but a lot of those concerns may go out the window as this thing goes on.
I’ll be posting in the coming days about the ongoing situation here. I don’t need to repeat what the doomsayers have been suggesting regarding the future, but clearly travel-related industries are going to be severely affected and may not bounce back for years.
I will say I believe it will get very bad here and it will last a long time (I do not think this will blow over in a month or two). The U.K. and U.S. are going to experience the same issues as Europe and will pay a price for dragging their feet in preparation. If you’re in either country you should prepare now for some difficult times. Clearly, the current U.K. and U.S. administrations have dropped the ball and missed the opportunity to get out ahead of this. It’s shocking here, for example, to see coverage on TV last night of kids going about Spring Break in Florida as if nothing is happening in the world. Please, friends, do not underestimate this.
I don’t want to leave you on that depressing note, so I will say that it’s a lovely 68-degree, sunny, almost first day of Spring here and we’re having a nice lunch on the balcony. This is Paris, after all.