In early 2020, from afar, with other concerns in mind, France is observing what is happening in China.
On 24 January 2020, the first 3 cases of Covid-19 were registered in France. Agnès Buzyn, Minister of Health, declares that “the risk of importing [the virus] from Wuhan is virtually zero” and “the risk of spreading is very low.” The only preventive measure is then to equip airports with preventive information posters…
In fact, what concerns the authorities are the local elections of March 2020. A dark but crunchy sexual video affair led the candidate of President Emmanuel Macron’s party to withdraw his candidacy for the much-coveted post of Mayor of Paris. As a result, a few days before the elections, but especially on the eve of a health crisis, the Minister of Health abandoned her post and resumed her candidacy for the Paris Town Hall, leaving room for an entirely new Minister.
At the same time, in early March, we are watching closely our Italian neighbours who are asked to stay at home. Around the morning café, some are convinced that we will escape this treatment, others are wondering if it should not be too late to take the same measures… It seems unreal that we can experience the same situation.
And then everything follows along, schools close, then bars and restaurants, and all the places that are open to the public as well. Surprisingly, at a time of imminent lockdown, the first round of municipal elections on Sunday, 15 March is being held. If it crossed borders, the virus would not circulate in the polling stations.
On the evening of Monday, 16, however, Emmanuel MACRON announced that the following day, starting at 12:00 p.m., travel would be greatly reduced. In fact, it is decided: we will have to stay indoors and go out only in very specific cases, with a paper certificate by hand.
This lockdown is justified by the high risk of saturation of hospital services in intensive care unit. In the absence of sufficient space, one life should be given priority over another.
Indeed, the President said the strong words: “We are at war.” And the 67 million French people take these words very seriously, since the spokes for toilet paper, flour and pasta are emptied entirely in supermarkets.
At the office, we set up our home workstation. Activity suspended a little for the first 15 days but soon business resumed and with the various digital means it was rather easy for us to continue our work. We met once or twice a week on site to take stock.
Our main objective has been to maintain close contact with our clients, which we have been able to do by developing videoconferencing or by sending regular news on legal developments, particularly in labour law. Indeed, we have seen a significant increase in issues of social and family law.
Judicial activity was abruptly halted, as only the civil and criminal emergency services were maintained.
Moreover, in order to deal with the emergence of a large number of exceptional situations, the legislature hastened to issue numerous ordinances. In all, no fewer than 62 orders, including some amendments, were issued to address the COVID-19 epidemic and the problems created by the crisis. A real headache for lawyers that we are.
To help businesses to maintain their activity, the government has introduced a number of financial incentives: partial unemployment, daily allowances for those who have to look after children, solidarity funds … allowing short-term cash management.
In mid-April, a lockdown exit was announced for 11 May. So we started counting the days and listed the first things we wanted to do when we were released.
The health crisis revealed a failure on the part of the French State to manage its stocks of masks. It appeared that the mask stock that had been built up during the H1N1 episode was obsolete and had never been renewed. There was a shortage. It was therefore necessary to ensure that each person could be fitted with a mask when leaving the containment.
Then came the day … On parole… The children went back to school, which enabled the parents to get back to work. We have gradually reinvested the terraces of our cafes, the terraces that are so dear to us.
Most companies maintained telework, at least on a part-time basis. Many French people have left the big cities for the countryside. To support the local economy, most French stayed in France for summer holidays. The September period was almost normal. We have resumed an almost normal life with some necessary adaptations: Say goodbye to the French cheek kissing !
Since 30 October 2020, however, in the face of accelerating contamination and a new risk of overloading hospital services, the government has once again decided to confine the country. Crèches, schools, and highschool have remained open to allow genuine teleworking.
As regards justice, which is a public service, this time it continues to function normally. Since May, we have been pleading our cases for a mask on the nose, shouting our arguments, trying to draw the attention of the judges barricaded behind plexiglass windows. We fight every day to maintain oral arguments, as the judges increasingly urge us to proceed only in writing.
While some businesses have never reopened between the two lockdowns, others are trying to adapt and reinvent themselves. The local brewery has developed a take-out offer that we enjoy at noon.
The time is finally far from over. Now, for my part, I have a real fear that all of this will end up in a sad normality, especially if there is a desire to put all of these “exceptional” measures permanently into law. If we can indeed hear the birds singing louder, I can’t wait until we can once again mix our laughter, the tinkling of our glasses of wine and the clack of our dancing steps with their songs.
Emeline ERAUD, ODEON AVOCATS