I’ve spent my entire life in countries with unrestricted freedom of movement. Not only did those countries let me go where I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as I wasn’t breaking laws, the countries were indifferent to my location on a given day at a given time. Insofar as my movement encouraged commerce and the support of local businesses, which in turn paid taxes, these governments might actually encourage me to get out and about.
I think it was because I’ve always taken freedom of movement for granted that I felt that energetic frisson in my bones and brain this last weekend, as our local parks opened and restaurants prepared to open their outdoor terraces here in Paris. While there had been an energy and buzz in the air since the first days of deconfinement, this last weekend was different. Normal service wasn’t quite restored, but it felt quite normal. The streets and parks were packed (Buttes Chaumont, a very large park near my home, was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, and that was with its restaurants and bars closed). The majority of the population across 6 arrondissements that I visited one day (specifically the 19th, 11th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd) were unmasked and not social distancing. Witnessing this has been like watching a light turn on in a dark room: one moment there was coronavirus, the next moment it was summer.
It’s important to note that it is only in and around Paris, and only for the next few weeks that we will continue to see these restrictions: they include schools reopening with capped class sizes so some students will continue to attend remotely; swimming pools, campsites, and theaters closed; gatherings in public places limited to groups of ten (enforced by roving police). The rest of France, host to fewer cases and a lower infection rate, are “back to normal.”
The much-mooted “second wave” which the media seemed to almost hope for so they could continue to be one of the few “essential” workers hasn’t materialized, and the president of the Scientific Council advising the French government has said that even in a worst-case scenario a second lockdown would be unacceptable for a number of reasons. Given that sunshine and fresh air are extremely effective (and free) deterrents against viruses of all kinds, not just the recent celebrity COVID-19, one wonders why we didn’t…