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  • Writer's picturepeter grose

A narrow escape?

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

We’re just back from Paris, a trip which marks our first substantial voyage in 16 months and our first trip to Paris in 20 months. Since you ask … yes, it was great. Paris seemed a bit scruffier and a bit quieter than usual. But it was a joy to be back in familiar restaurants, now fully open, and to go to the Opera Bastille to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet before a live audience. The picture above shows part of the audience, all wearing their mandatory masks. In general Parisians are a stroppy and unruly lot. But, as the picture below left shows, even on the 91 bus on Saturday morning, masks were much in evidence.

So what’s all this about a close shave? Well, as I type, the French Cabinet is meeting to decide what to do in the face of rising Covid-19 numbers (4256 new cases in France yesterday). We can expect some announcement later today. Insofar as the only remaining area still locked down is night clubs, and everything from bars to churches is open, we are all dreading the Cabinet’s decision. Back to lockdown? Back to a curfew? Back to closed schools, bars, restaurants, churches, football pitches and so on? Will this mean that a Paris trip like the last few days will go back to being out of the question? Or will it become a passing luxury, to be followed by a return to the dismal old normal of the last two years?

The French have a traditional cry, really a throwback to the glory days of the French Revolution of 1789: aux armes, citoyens. In other words, let’s all arm ourselves and give the bastards hell. If the Cabinet in its infinite wisdom decides to go back to lockdown, I’ve decided I’ll be ready to pick up my old air rifle and join the rest of them on the barricades.

Why this militancy? Because we sheep are finally ready to rebel. We’ve more or less cheerfully put up with the masks and the social distancing, not to mention the closed shops and restaurants, the curfew, and the shut down of international travel, because we were all in this together. But to ask us to go back to all that is simply too big an ask, especially when we’ve done the right thing and made ourselves safe to be near. That’s a long-winded way of saying we the vaccinated have had enough.

So the best result from today’s Cabinet meeting would be to say: everything stays open, just as it is now, but … only for the fully vaccinated.

The vaccination figures are now so stark and so statistically unchallengeable that they are no longer a matter for argument. Consider this number: in the month of June 2021 in the whole of the United States some 99.2% of the 10,000 who died of Covid-19 were unvaccinated. Compared with the microscopic risk presented by the vaccines themselves, these numbers show that it is vastly safer to be vaccinated than to hope for the best and rely on others to not infect you.

So why should the unvaccinated be allowed to rob me of my rights? In France especially, good food and nice bars form part of the birthright of every citizen. So is the right to go to football matches and chant: "Allez, les bleus!" When we went to the Opera Bastille last Friday night, we were warned in advance that we would not be admitted without the usual tickets plus a full vaccination certificate, plus some form of official ID. At the door, they checked our titre de séjour and vaccine certificate embedded in a QR code in our mobile phones. It was the only time in Paris that we were asked for proof of vaccination, and it was a great comfort in that huge audience space at Opera Bastille to know that everybody around us was also fully vaccinated. To me vaccination is pure freedom.

Can anybody be vaccinated? You bet. In France today, everyone over the age of 12 is eligible for anti-Covid vaccination. As of yesterday some 39.3% of the French population had received a complete course of vaccination and would therefore, under my rules, be free to go wherever they wanted within the European Union and be free to go to church, drink with (vaccinated) friends in a bar, and rub shoulders with (vaccinated) spectators at a football match. Are vaccines available? Again, you bet. The vaccines are readily available all over France, and the government’s biggest problem so far has not been lack of supply but lack of demand. Some 20% of the French population aged over 18 has said it will not get vaccinated. For me, that’s absolutely fine and is unmistakably their right. They just can’t go to church, that’s all. Or to a bar. Or to the cinema.

You pays your money and you takes your chances.

July 13 update

Phew! Yesterday's announcement brought no new restrictions and a dead cunning plan to lure the French population into vaccination. Apart from saying to French health workers and those in contact with the vulnerable that they had better get vaccinated in the next six weeks or no pay, there was next to no coercion. The cunning plan? From early September, Covid-19 testing in France will no longer be free but will instead cost of the order of 35 euros (£29.88 sterling or AU$55.36 or US$41.37 at today's exchange rate) for each test. What in the hell difference will that make, you ask? Just this. From the same date in early September people will not be admitted to bars, restaurants, sporting events, museums, concerts or wherever crowds gather, without a vaccination certificate or a RECENT (ie less than three days old) negative Covid test. So if you are unvaccinated and want to go to watch sport every Saturday, then no earlier than every Wednesday you'll need to take a fresh Covid test at 35€ a pop. Vaccination will, of course remain both free and voluntary. The rush of new vax volunteers has already begun, according to Doctolib, the French web site dealing with vaccinations. In the last 24 hours they've made just under a million new appointments for Covid-19 jabs. Fingers crossed, it might all work.

July 16 update

I never thought I'd write this, but Boris Johnson is being proved right. Britain now leads the developed world (in the Covid-19 stakes), leaving Joe Biden's United States sidelined and panting for breath. Yesterday Britain recorded 48,533 new cases of Covid-19, easily overtaking America's 28,315. France might as well quit the race: it could manage only 8365.

Seriously, Macron's considerable gamble in trying to force the pace of vaccination seems to be working. Britain's record is impressive with 52.9% of the population fully vaccinated, followed by the US with 48% fully vaccinated. Both are now being challenged by France's 42.7% fully vaccinated, well up from only 16% seven weeks ago. What's more, the pace of vaccination in France is increasing, whereas it is falling in other countries.

As with just about everything in France, it's all about food. Reluctant French men and women suddenly found themselves facing being barred from bars and restaurants without a vaccination certificate or recent negative Covid-19 test. Jab-me-now seems to have been the widespread and increasingly urgent plea.

What could turn the tide in Britain? Perhaps suggesting that only those who have been fully vaccinated would be allowed to watch television. Try that one, Boris! You'll be knocked down in the rush. As for the United States, proof of vaccination before you are allowed to buy or carry a gun might just do the trick.

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