Toilet paper and pasta: France girds for second virus lockdown

Camille BOUISSOU and Daphne Rousseau
·3-min read
Almost 33 million people watched French President Emmanuel Macron announce a second nationwide lockdown to battle the coronavirus
Almost 33 million people watched French President Emmanuel Macron announce a second nationwide lockdown to battle the coronavirus

Stores and businesses across France were filled Thursday by people racing to get supplies -- and maybe a last-minute haircut -- ahead of a new coronavirus lockdown coming into effect at midnight.

Essentials like pasta and toilet paper were in high demand, as were printer ink and electronics for working from home, while yoga mats were not to be found at many sporting goods stores.

"I'm stocking up, since we don't know when this will end," said Catherine Debeaupuis, shopping at an electronics retailer in central Paris.

Just under 33 million people watched President Emmanuel Macron announce the grim news in a prime-time address Wednesday -- a mere five days after having said: "it's still too early" to consider new lockdowns.

The president said hospitals would soon be overwhelmed by a virus that is spreading "at a speed that even the most pessimistic did not predict."

On Thursday, the public health agency announced 47,637 new infections in 24 hours and 235 deaths, pushing the overall tally beyond 36,000.  

Yet several lawmakers booed in parliament on Thursday when Prime Minister Jean Castex assured that "we knew this second wave was coming", though a solid majority -- 399 to 27 -- voted to approve the new lockdown.

Castex said schools, which will be allowed to stay open unlike during the first March to May lockdown, would require face masks for children as young as six, down from 11 and older until now.

He warned the second epidemic wave would "likely be more deadly" than the first that erupted in March and claimed some 30,000 lives before easing in the summer only to return with new force.

With a ban on mingling the only remaining option, Castex announced that from Friday, working from home will once again be the norm.

People will be allowed to leave home only if armed with a self-signed certificate stating their urgent business -- food shopping, taking the kids to school, going to work if this cannot be done from home, going to the hospital or a pharmacy.

A certificate would also be needed by people wishing to go for a jog or walk their dog, within a limit of one hour and no further than one kilometre (0.6 miles) from home.

Funeral attendance will be limited to 30 and six for weddings.

Those found breaking the rules, which will be policed, risk a fine of 135 euros, said the premier.

- 'Something that will last' -

Like others in a crowded Paris supermarket, Mourad Amarouche was loading up on toilet paper and pasta for his family.

"Just one of each, we're going to stay calm," he said. "There won't be any shortages, but I'm hoping not to have to come back tomorrow, when there will be tons of people."

Hairdressers were turning away desperate customers, many of whom were not convinced the lockdown would ease on December 1 as Macron said he hoped. 

"Give me something that will last for a while," said Oulaya, a 50-year-old woman who managed to get a spot at the Angelo Capelli salon on the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris. 

At the sprawling La Defense business district west of the capital, employees made a final commute to transfer landlines to mobile phones or give office plants a last watering.

Several people dragged suitcases to empty out their offices of important files or laptops.

With many Parisians seeking to flee to country homes or other havens to ride out the lockdown -- the national traffic agency reported unusually large traffic jams in the capital on Wednesday evening, just before Macron spoke. 

And as the exodus continued Thursday, others had to resign themselves to long hours stuck at home, many of them in small city apartments.

"I just bought some incredibly expensive 'zen' candles to feel better when I come home," said Mehdi Lacheb, a 34-year-old pharmacist.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the second confinement will cause a near 15-percent drop in economic activity, but the government will provide 15 billion euros ($17.5 billion) per month in aid to affected businesses.

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