Coronavirus: A walk through a deserted Paris

One of the world’s most visited cities turned quiet suddenly

Photo: AFP Empty streets near the closed Eiffel Tower while a strict lockdown comes into effect, 17 March.

With France in coronavirus lockdown, Paris has become almost deserted, with only a few joggers, pedestrians and vehicles remaining on the streets – a far cry from the crowds and traffic that normally fill the French capital.

From Notre-Dame Cathedral to the world-famous Louvre Museum, landmarks normally swarming with tourists and locals now resemble something from a post-apocalyptic movie, with barely a living soul in sight. France went into lockdown on Tuesday noon, with no one allowed to leave their homes unless it is for one of a handful of officially sanctioned reasons, such as going to work, buying food or visiting the doctor. One of the world’s most visited cities turned quiet suddenly.

French health authorities revealed 108 new deaths from coronavirus on Thursday, taking the total to 372 or an increase of almost 41%, the toll rising sharply yet again as the country was in its third day of a lockdown aimed at containing the outbreak.

Police officers patrolling the Champs-Élysées, near the Arc de Triomphe, began enforcing new rules of confinement across the capital and the rest of France, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe with 10,955 cases.

In what has been described as the toughest health-related restrictions in France’s modern history, people will be allowed outdoors for only specific reasons for at least the next 15 days; the exceptions include buying groceries, getting medication at a drugstore, or commuting to work for those unable to work remotely. Some 67 million were put under lockdown. Drastic curbs on public life like in other countries have been introduced with all bars, cafes, restaurants, entertainment venues and non-essential stores told to shut. Factories are also shut.

People leaving their homes now have to sign and carry a form explaining the reasons for their movements, or face fines. Across the city, police officers began stopping pedestrians and pulling over cars to inspect their papers.

Under the rules police are able to hand out €38 fines to those deemed to be flouting the rules. Those fines could rise to €135.

The only reasons people are allowed to be out are for health appointments, work if they can't do it from home, exercise or to walk the dog, urgent family care or to shop for groceries.`

French café culture has also evaporated. The hundreds of locals and tourists in the busy Paris restaurant area who were soaking up the sun, eating, chatting and smoking on cafe terraces are disappeared. Aisles were also deserted at a nearby souvenir shop selling Eiffel Tower keyrings, miniatures of the Arc de Triomphe, and T-shirts of football club Paris Saint-Germain.

The French capital and the surrounding Ile-de-France region saw 50 million visitors last year, spending a total of €22 billion ($24.8 billion), according to the CRT regional tourism committee.

The downturn comes as businesses in one of the world's most visited cities are still counting the costs of a historic public transport strike that crippled Paris for weeks on end, as well as months of anti-government "yellow vests" protests that often turned violent.

Monday night saw Parisians leaving the capital in droves on the eve of a nationwide home confinement announced by President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to halt the virus's spread. At the Gare du Nord station, crowds of passengers, many wearing masks, waited to board their trains out of the city. Armed police patrolled inside and a worker disinfected the main hallway.

The French were joining in the exodus from Paris, with most saying they would prefer to self-isolate in the countryside rather than in a small city flat. It drew dismay from provincial France, where many fear that city-dwellers will bring the virus with them and accelerate its spread. Inhabitants of rural areas are afraid people fleeing big cities will put pressure on scarce local resources.

"Parisians are fleeing the city and will infect the provinces, just to be confined in the open air. This exodus is unthinkable, selfish and a ticking time-bomb," one Twitter user wrote, cited by France24.

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