While a precocious spring flourishes outside my window, I feel a strange mixture of emotions writing this. A few weeks ago, it seemed inconceivable that parts of the world could grind to a halt so quickly. Now, the COVID-19 situation is moving so fast that governments and health services can’t keep up with it. It feels like something out of a bad apocalyptic movie.
I won’t go into detail, since it’s all there online already. Suffice it to say that consecutive appeals by the French President and the Prime Minister to act sensibly and avoid other people have not been successful. Cases continue to rise, people either act as if nothing were amiss or go on toilet roll buying binges, and we are now effectively in lockdown throughout France.
Here in Europe we are, naturally, very attached to our hard-won personal liberty. It’s difficult to accept a situation that infringes it. Emmanuel Macron went on TV last night for the second time in four days to inform us that restrictions would be tightened again. He avoided using the words “confinement”, but that is what this amounts to. The Interior Minister used that word later.
As of midday today (17th March), you can only leave your home for vital reasons: to work, if you can’t do it at home; to shop for essential supplies; for medical reasons; for overriding family reasons or to help vulnerable people; or to exercise yourself or pets, but not in a group.
You must fill in a form certifying that you are carrying out one of the above activities and carry it with you. Failure to produce it or supply a valid explanation is subject to a fine of between 38 and 135 euros.
Those of you in France can download the form here, or you can write your own attestation and hand it over if stopped by the police or the army.
This situation will continue for a minimum of 15 days.
Non-essential shops, restaurants, bars, discos and cinemas were already closed or suspended from last Saturday night. This left only food shops and market stalls, petrol stations, bureaux de tabac, banks and pharmacies authorised to open.
Those are the bare facts. But then there is the human side, too: activities such as sporting events, choir singing, walking in groups, concerts, going to the cinema, eating in restaurants – in short, all the things that people like to experience together are suddenly suspended.
In fact, the SF and I decided last week to withdraw from all of our external activities until further notice. For us, self-isolation is in principle not too hard. We live in a rural area and sometimes go for a couple of days without seeing anyone in normal times. But the very fact of having to restrict one’s life compulsorily is tough psychologically. And if it’s tough for us, the isolation and the tedium will be very difficult to bear for people who live alone.
At least we have the internet to keep us in touch with others and with what’s going on, although the quality of information is variable and often inaccurate, and the bickering on social media becomes tiresome.
Instead, we can use the internet to do a bit of virtual travelling or take an online course or stream a live concert. We can also pick up the phone to check on people, particularly those who are alone and need reassurance and the sound of another voice.
For my part, although I can’t go anywhere, I will continue to blog, and, I hope, to provide a few minutes of light relief that way (today’s post excluded!)
What suggestions would you like to share for avoiding cabin fever?
In the meantime, stay safe and well.
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