France’s annual Bastille Day, Tuesday, will be very different this year, with the coronavirus pandemic shaping much more subdued celebrations — and a new concept of war.
France’s yearly display of military might is still on the menu — from jets and helicopters flying over Paris, to troops on the ground.
But most French will have to switch on their TVs if they want to see it this year. The traditional firemen’s balls are cancelled. And while Paris fireworks are still on, Mayor Anne Hidalgo recommends city residents watch them from home.
Across France, Bastille Day 2020 is a toned-down affair. Just a few thousand will attend the main ceremony in the French capital — taking place at the Place de la Concorde — instead of the hordes watching the usual parade down the Champs Elysees.
And this year, the nation pays tribute to health care and other frontline workers involved in a new battle — not in Mali or Afghanistan, but at home, against COVID-19. Some of them are attending the Paris parade. So are health ministers from four European countries — Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg — which took in French coronavirus patients.
All of this reflects the thinking of French President Emmanuel Macron. He has repeatedly described the fight against the pandemic a "war."
In recent weeks, France — which once had one of the world’s highest caseloads — appeared to be winning it. Daily cases have fallen sharply from several months ago, along with mortalities.
But with lockdown a distant memory, health experts now fear a resurgence. The French are shedding their masks, heading to holidays and increasingly greeting each other with the traditional double-cheek kiss. The numbers of sick are inching back up. Worrying traces of the virus have been found in Paris wastewater.
Today, the government is considering making mask-wearing obligatory in indoor spaces. On France-Info radio, Health Minister Olivier Verran warned against relaxing social distancing guidelines.
Along with Bastille Day, another French tradition promises to be observed. Some health care workers are planning to protest in Paris against recently agreed hospital reforms, which they argue do not go far enough.