After initially ignoring the national lockdown, people are heeding the presidents guidance, says a professor of French and European politics at UCL
If a week is a long time in politics, its an eternity for governments dealing with coronavirus. The pandemic threatens to wreak havoc on health services and bring the global economy to a standstill. Though France has not reached the critical stage of its Italian neighbour, where permits are required to leave your house, it is inching closer towards quarantine.
Less than a week ago, President Emmanuel Macron announced that schools and universities would be closed. Two days later, the prime minister, douard Philippe, hastily took to the political stage to order that cafes, bars, cinemas and theatres be shut down by midnight that day. It was a Saturday evening, and the theatres and restaurants of Paris were full. On social media, people posted videos of relaxed customers enjoying a last drink in bars long after the curfew had commenced. Policemen surveyed the scene as bystanders. They did not dare to interrupt this ordinary show of French joie de vivre.
The following day, still undeterred by the governments warnings, crowds were spotted in outdoor markets and parks across the country. Macron and Philippe were reportedly appalled by the populations lack of collective discipline. The French media reported that one of Macrons political advisersquoted Philippe Ptains infamous 1940 speech: The spirit of enjoyment has overpowered the spirit of sacrifice. Ptain, who served as the chief of state of Vichy France in collaboration with Nazi Germany, believed that Frances abject military defeat in the summer of 1940 could only be explained by the populations lack of seriousness, poor work ethic and innate penchant for entertainment. Ptain singled out the leftwing Popular Front alliance, which granted workers their first ever paid holiday, as responsible for the countrys military and moral collapse.
After people showed little sign of heeding Macrons guidance, the president implemented further restrictive measures. During a speech on Monday, which invoked a mixture of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, Macron insisted several times that the country was at war, and asked the French to stay at home and self-isolate for two weeks.