People flee Paris ahead of Coronavirus lockdown causing 700-km long traffic jam

Via AP
Via AP

As France announced a country-wide lockdown beginning Friday, on Thursday evening, people in Paris began fleeing for the countryside, causing logjams that stretched at one point for 435 miles (700 kilometers).

As the national restrictions came into effect, there was only a sprinkling of people hurrying along city sidewalks on Friday, The Associated Press news agency reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the second lockdown to put the brakes on the Covid-19 surge as new cases of coronavirus swelled in France. He said that the new restrictions that came into force on Friday would last until December 1.

In France, concerns were growing that the country's health system would be swamped by rising infections, so authorities ordered another four-week lockdown starting Friday.

On what would normally have been a busy weekday, many areas of the French capital resembled a regular lazy weekend morning. Those who were out often clutched permission forms showing that they had an exemption that made it possible for them to be on the streets.

Grocery stores and markets were the only places that were busy as people stockpiled food and other necessities.

In France, the 67 million population has been ordered to stay at home at all times without visitors or risking steep fines or prosecution. There are a few exceptions, such as being allowed out within a half-mile (1 kilometer) from home for one hour of exercise a day, to go to medical appointments, to a workplace, or to shop for essential goods. Apart from those which offer takeout, restaurants and cafés are shuttered.

AP quoted Prime Minister Jean Castex as saying on Thursday, "Going to the houses of friends, having friends over and moving around for anything other than the reasons outlined" will be impossible.

For many, that will strike hard.

Laura Beimberg, 28, an intern at cosmetics giant L'Oreal who is from Mexico, said, "It's not nice because I left my country to enjoy the experience of living in another country." "And this experience of being between four walls, far from friends and family, is so difficult."

France is currently witnessing new cases on a daily basis, averaging around 50,000. That means that France is seeing, on a per capita basis, about two and a half times the number of new cases every day that the United States is seeing.

Following the approval by France of new restrictions in hopes of reversing the trend, WHO European Regional Director Dr. Hans Kluge said the national lockdowns were a "last resort option," citing the significant damage to economies, people's mental health, and the incidence of domestic violence caused by the measures.

But it isn't France alone. Many of its European neighbors, some even beyond what they saw in the spring, are experiencing rising infections. The average number of daily cases in Belgium is around 150 per 100,000 people, compared to approximately 62 in France.

On Friday, the Belgian government is meeting to consider even more stringent restrictions on movement that would amount to a quasi-lockdown. Although on a much less dramatic scale, Germany, which is also seeing an increase in cases, agreed this week to a month-long shutdown, called "lockdown light," of restaurants, bars, theaters, and other leisure facilities.

Such measures have taken a brutal toll on economies across Europe, and during an interview with France-Inter, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire gave grim predictions, raising his estimate of the depth of the recession. He predicted an 11% drop in GDP this year.

Perhaps French residents could be forgiven for thinking that it was Groundhog Day, just a few months after one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe emerged.

Some have accepted reality.

Yoann Boullé, 28, a bloody evening manager at a Parisian brasserie, said, "We just have to live with it. You've resigned yourself to it."

But a lot of Parisians, who had had enough last time around, didn't wait for four weeks to be confined to their typically cramped apartments.

Amongst those who fled Paris was Carlo Ponti, a 54-year-old interior decorator, but he did it by train. He called the Parisians' departure a "historic exodus."

He left with his husband on Friday morning after finding that all the trains were booked on Thursday night.

Ponti was quoted as saying, "The moment the French president gave his speech (announcing a lockdown), the entire national train website went down, it was overloaded. Everyone wanted to book to get away."

He is planning to stay until Christmas at his second home in the French region of Burgundy.

"The quality of life in the capital is awful during the lockdown, and everyone who can do so tries to get away," he said.

As residents fled the capital, highways around the capital descended into scenes of traffic chaos during the night. French media reported that logjams were more than twice as common in the Paris area, reaching near-record levels as many headed for more space in the country or family homes.

The traffic was made worse by the fact that many were also leaving for the holiday of All Saints' Day on November 1.

Macron said the authorities would be "tolerant" to families returning on Monday from the holiday, but otherwise inter-regional travel would be strictly prohibited.

Publish : 2020-10-31 15:48:00

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