26/10/2021

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Spring Arrives in Paris, Along With Another Covid-19 Lockdown

PARIS—Spring was once a time for strolls along the River Seine and people-watching from sun-dappled terraces.

On Friday, however, Paris awoke to what has now become an entirely different rite of spring: a pandemic-induced lockdown.

This lockdown is less severe than the original one that paralyzed France a year ago. It is limited to Paris and 15 other areas of France that have been hit hard by the spread of Covid-19 variants. Parisians are allowed to venture 10 kilometers from their homes with a permission slip, as opposed to last year when the limit was one kilometer.

But France’s third lockdown is perhaps its most demoralizing. The country has looked abroad with envy as vaccines were developed in record time and deployed with such speed across the U.S. and the U.K. that France began to wonder if it too was on the cusp of economic renewal.

Instead Paris’ cafes and bistros are indefinitely closed. The Louvre is sealed off. The Eiffel Tower is deserted. And the line for vaccines is very long.

“My sister lives in New York—she was vaccinated and she’s younger than me,” said Cyril Dunn, a 54-year-old leather-goods artisan. “In France there are still vulnerable people who haven’t been vaccinated. I know 85-year-olds who are still waiting for an appointment.”

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with hospital staff in Poissy, near Paris, on Wednesday.



Photo:

yoan valat/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President

Emmanuel Macron’s

management of the crisis has been particularly vexing to many French. The former investment banker has been steadfast in sticking with the European Union’s decision to collectively procure vaccine supplies—an approach that has led to vaccine shortfalls throughout France and the rest of the Continent. As of Friday, only 8% of France’s population had received a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and only 3% had been fully vaccinated.

Mr. Macron has also fueled skepticism of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and

AstraZeneca

PLC that many European health authorities deem crucial for turning the tide of the pandemic.

In late January, Mr. Macron told a group of reporters the vaccine was quasi ineffective for people older than 65, without providing evidence to back up his claim. His government then reversed course in early March—clearing it for use in older people—only to suspend the vaccine’s use this week following reports that people who had received it in other parts of Europe developed rare blood clots, and some had died.

On Thursday, Mr. Macron’s prime minister,

Jean Castex,

said the country would resume use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after the European Union’s health agency said it was safe and effective and didn’t increase the risk of blood clots. Mr. Castex received the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday to reinforce the government’s message.

The zigzagging has deepened confusion in a country that has a history of vaccine hesitancy.

“I don’t understand why they stopped,” said Eric Vigor, a 52-year-old banker. “If I could get vaccinated, I would immediately—with AstraZeneca too.”

Jean Benmussa, a 74-year-old retiree who resides in the Saint-Mandé suburb just east of Paris, said the millions of people who had already taken the vaccines convinced him the shots were safe, not the government.

“It’s been the same with everything. The entire management of the pandemic has been nonsense,” he said.

In waiting until spring to impose a lockdown, Mr. Macron has also delayed the possibility of reopening France’s economy.



Photo:

ian langsdon/Shutterstock

Frustrations are running particularly high over Mr. Macron’s approach to the latest lockdown. He rejected calls from city officials to lock down Paris in the depths of winter when the weather was icy cold and variants of the virus were beginning to spread across the country.

Now Paris’ hospital system is on the brink, forcing authorities to transfer patients to areas with fewer cases. Nationwide, intensive-care units are 83% full.

In waiting until spring to impose a lockdown, Mr. Macron has also delayed the possibility of reopening France’s economy. French officials said they expected the lockdown to shave 0.2% off France’s gross domestic product this year.

That is a bitter pill for businesses across the country that have been closed since November. When France came out of its second lockdown in mid-December, Mr. Macron stipulated that restaurants and bars were to remain closed to reduce social contact. The same rule applied to museums, concert halls and other venues where people gather.

“What matters most for the economy is the lack of progress toward lifting restrictions,” said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics, who had expected a large increase in France’s economic output in the second quarter. “We had anticipated that by now governments would be preparing to ease restrictions, or would even be doing so.”

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For now, Parisians are learning to curb their springtime enthusiasm. Earlier this month, Parisians flocked to the banks of the Seine amid a spell of warm weather. The national police force, which reports to the central government, responded by sending columns of police officers onto the riverbanks to clear them out.

Paris Mayor

Anne Hidalgo

said the operation was shocking, adding that the government acted without informing her ahead of time.

“You can intervene when people aren’t social-distancing or when they’re drinking without masks. But the scenes I saw were not like that,” Ms. Hidalgo said. “There were lots of parents with strollers, people out for a walk.”

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci says it is risky to pull back on public health measures, because cases could plateau and then rebound, as they did in Europe.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at [email protected] and Matthew Dalton at [email protected]

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