As France emerges from 2 gruelling months of isolation, Macron hopes to win back citizens’ trust

The drawing on the front page of France's most prestigious newspaper, Le Monde, on May 6 said everything.

The patient, wearing a mask and lying on a psychiatrist's couch, was asking an anguished question. "Why, why, did I choose the date of May 11th?"


The patient is actually French President Emmanuel Macron. He is not the only government leader who is feeling the tension.

The white spot on the beard of the country's prime minister, Edouard Philippe, appears to have doubled since France was arrested almost eight weeks ago.

In that period, more than 26,000 Frenchmen died from COVID-19. There were more than 137,000 cases, placing France fourth in Europe, after the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain in cases and deaths.


May 11 is the day that the country cautiously relaxes its rigid blocking rules.

Macron's cartoon distress stems from several sources – the battle against COVID-19, which many criticized for starting too late, as well as concerns that the virus is still hot on government maps in the Paris area, déconfinement can release more death.


Strict blocking

For eight weeks, no one, except medical workers and those in essential jobs, was allowed to leave for more than an hour and more than a kilometer from his home. And they had to arm themselves with a certificate from the interior ministry, downloaded and printed or over the phone, specifying why they left and at what time – or facing a fine.

The police enforced these rules with force. According to statistics from the French Interior Ministry on April 23, there were more than 15 million checks by the police and 915,000 fines. And the fines are heavy – 135 euros (about $ 205 Cdn).

That means about 12,350,000 euros ($ 18.6 million) that the government says will go to French hospitals.

A policeman checks a woman's self-certified note for being outside before a two-minute celebration near Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris last month. French police paid 915,000 fines for violating the quarantine across the country. (Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)

A few days before the termination ended, I saw five policemen on a bicycle surrounding a small 85-year-old man. He had not testified, but protested that he was simply going to the doctor next door. He was warned, but not fined.


Two friends were not so lucky. One was fined for standing in line outside a store with his nine-year-old daughter – the girl did not have her official piece of paper.

Another friend was fined for sitting on a sidewalk bench. Not allowed. She protested about having her certificate and being over 70 and just resting because she had a bad leg. She was still fined.

She was not happy. "Abusing petty power," she said. She is attractive.

New controls

With déconfinement, the certificates are no longer needed. And, instead of a kilometer, people will be able to travel up to 100 km from home.

Paris trains and metro will resume service at 50% of pre-pandemic levels. There will be strict controls over the numbers, and passengers will have to wear masks on all public transport.

Primary schools will be open, although up to half of parents in many regions say they are refusing to send their children immediately. But the beaches of Brittany to the Mediterranean will remain closed, causing public murmurs even from Macron's allies.

The entrance to the closed restaurant Le Procope in Paris. Restaurants and cafes will remain closed until June. (Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images)

"It's a sledgehammer blow," Didier le Gac, a Breton explorer from Macron's own party, told Le Figaro. Le Gac wondered why Parisians could board a wagon full of subways, but their voters could not walk along the beaches next door.

Shops will reopen, but restaurants and cafes will remain closed until June. I discovered that the fishmonger in the open-air market, closed for two months, had brought his products to the customers' doors every Saturday.

Like many cafes and restaurants in Paris, the restaurant across the street sells fresh produce from its agricultural suppliers through the back door.

The owner also cooks one dish a day for the trip. One day recently, he called the cook to hurry up with the grilled duck. It was the client's birthday. An assistant cook ran out with two glasses of wine for the expecting couple.

Wine keeps, but not beer. The French brewers' association has announced that it has spilled 10 million liters of beer – four Olympic-size swimming pools – down the drain.

The blockade also released an anxiety poison. I know friends who are too afraid to go out and who daily wash bars, handrails, shoes and even packages brought to their door with bleach.

People sit down and walk down the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris on Friday, 53 days after the blockade in France and three days before the beginning of the restrictions' flexibilities. (Christophe Archambault / AFP / Getty Images)

Saving the economy

But the government is also concerned about the near death of the French economy during this crisis. Officially, the country has lost 500,000 jobs. The number of unemployed increased to 3.17 million.

In desperation, the French government paid 120 billion euros ($ 182 billion) in subsidies to companies, largely to ensure that they continue to pay employees.

Macron has been involved in three major struggles in the past 18 months – against the "gilets jaunes", the spontaneous front of the poorest people fighting in the provinces that felt abandoned by the government; against public service unions, which triggered weeks of strikes against pension reforms that would reduce payments for many of their members; and now against COVID-19.

Although the government was politically wounded in each of these battles, the fight against the virus caused particularly serious damage. In February, there was a feeling of horror at what was happening in Italy, but also the comfortable belief that it could not happen in France.

So it did and the country found that its government was as ill-prepared as Italy's.

For eight weeks, no one, except medical workers and those in essential jobs, was allowed to leave the house for more than an hour. (The Associated Press)

The focus of public anger was the lack of masks and protective equipment for frontline health workers. That rage only intensified when Le Monde revealed that as the crisis escalated in February, government officials were still destroying stockpiles of masks under a plan agreed in 2017.

This helps to explain why an international survey conducted by French research companies Cevipof and IPSOS-Sopra Steria shows that 62% of French people are dissatisfied with the way their government handled COVID-19.

This is a higher level of dissatisfaction than in other European countries, including Italy and even Britain, which has the highest death toll in Europe.

More bad news for Macron: his personal poll numbers, which increased at the start of the crisis, are falling. Only 40% say they are satisfied with his leadership.

A pharmacist in Nice, France, serves a customer behind the newly installed protective screens on May 2. (Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images)

"We have to ride the tiger & # 39;

The embattled president now seeks colorful metaphors to convince his fellow citizens of the need to be a soldier while the country carefully opens its doors.

"We have to ride the tiger and tame it," he told representatives of French cultural industries as he promised hundreds of millions of subsidies to them on May 6. "The Tiger [the virus] it will not disappear, it will still be there. And fear will still be present in society. The only way to stop the tiger from eating us is to ride it. "

The concern about a second wave of infection is still so great that 40% of the country remains a "red zone" (where the rate of infection is still high) on government maps – and that includes Paris.

Macron, at the center, has been heavily criticized for handling the COVID-19 outbreak in France. (AFP via Getty Images)

There will be little slack in that area. Parks will remain closed. The distance must be observed. Vulnerable people, older than 70 and anyone with chronic conditions, are being asked to remain confined.

And the prime minister said the country's borders will remain closed during the summer. There will be no vacation abroad for anyone.

Cafes and restaurants may reopen in June, but the restaurant owner across the street will not be bothered, even if allowed. The rules, he said, will be strict – with complete disinfection, cleaning and separate tables.

He will continue selling his plate and vegetables daily through the back door until the fall.

"Then we will reopen," he said. "And let's see."

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