It has become a bit of a tradition that I take something along for the gang at the pool for St Patrick’s Day. A chance to bake wheaten bread or a whiskey cake. This year, though, everything was a bit up in the air. A new coronavirus was spreading across Europe and already causing a high death rate in both Italy and Spain.
In France we had already stopped shaking hands and bisous were now out of the question. It was a bit of a laugh at the pool and some complained if you refused to shake hands with them. There was definite unease in the air.
I had already booked a trip to England for the 9th March to allow for a bit of shopping and, despite the atmosphere of uncertainty, went out bought all the flour and bits necessary for a massive baking session.
Mum and dad came down to Anton’s and it was all a bit weird to be keeping our distance. One thing I was clear upon was that my parents’ church attendances should be put on hold. I don’t think they were overly convinced but Anton and Debs voiced their thoughts as well.
Things were running pretty much as normal in England, the Cheltenham races continued and tens of thousands of Spanish fans had been over for football — despite the rising death toll in their homeland. I felt that there was more concern in France where the pervading opinion was that President Macron was almost certainly going to put us into confinement.
He addressed the nation on Thursday 12th March and spoke of the preparations undertaken by the health services. He was quite clear, but : the situation was extremely grave and we were only at the start of an epidemic which was accelerating across Europe. The absolute priority was the health of the nation, especially of those that were likely to be the most vulnerable. For that reason he asked everybody over the age of seventy, as well as all those who suffered with respiratory or other chronic illnesses, to remain at home as much as possible and to reduce their contacts with others. People were formally encouraged not to visit their elderly relatives.
In an attempt to slow down the propagation of the virus (soon to be known as Covid-19) all schools and colleges would be shut from the following Monday. All the scientific evidence suggested that it was the young that were spreading the virus despite, often, not showing any symptoms. Child care would be assured, for all those that needed it, to continue working in essential services.
Measures would need to be taken to protect the health service and prevent it from being submerged by cases. Whilst not a new word, “télétravail”, or working from home, would become part of everyday conversation and a way of life for millions of people.
Looking back at his address to the nation I was surprised to note that he was already talking of the possibility of a second wave at some point in the future.
That weekend I was supposed to have been going out on the battlefields with a Canadian friend, but he had no sooner arrived in France on the Saturday than he took the first available flight back to Canada as he couldn’t be certain of getting another one.
On Monday the President addressed the nation again. He underlined the fact that not having any symptoms did not mean that you were not infected. It was imperative that everybody drastically reduced their contacts with others. For that reason he put us into confinement the following day — St Patrick’s Day.
If you wanted to leave the house you had to sign an attestation as to why. We were allowed to get in some daily exercise but within a one kilometre radius of the house. Again you needed to fill the form in.
Anything that wasn’t essential was shut ; from bars to cinemas, from restaurants to sports halls. No more haircuts !
On the Thursday I made my first trip to the shops. It was like some post apocalyptic film with the roads almost completely empty. There had been some talk of panic buying but Carrefour was pretty well stocked — just no toilet rolls.
What had taken place was the fitting of perspex screens between us and the cashiers. Every other checkout aisle had been closed off and floor markers appeared to remind us to keep our distance.
What was not yet a thing, was mask wearing — mainly because they were like gold dust. I was a wise bunny and got on the phone. Mask wearing I reckoned was going to become inevitable so dad made me up a batch following French government guidelines.
What was supposed to be a short period was extended on the 27th until 14th April.
And that was going to be far from the end of it.
Posted : 17 March 2020