Like everyone who lives in France, we waited for President Macron’s decision last Wednesday evening about what is to be done about the exponential rise of Covid-19 cases and increasing numbers of very sick people in the hospitals. We got a nationwide lockdown for at least a month, but which could be extended to the end of January 2021 in the worst of cases. Three months with shattered dreams of Christmas and New Year celebrations with families will be a bitter pill indeed! However, if the infection rates go down radically at the beginning of December, there may be some loosening like more shops opening and perhaps a return to the curfew system (lockdown at night only) of only yesterday. We now have to fill in an attestation paper each time we go out of the house for any reason, just like last March, April and May. The chairman of the scientific council to the French government, Dr Jean-François Delfraissy, who pushed for a return to lockdown, has said (my translation):
The scenario is rather to have a month-long lockdown, look at the different markers, then get out of the lockdown via a curfew that could continue through December, possibly over Christmas and New Year, and come out of that only in early January. The end of year celebrations will be different this year: they will be held in small groups, under curfew.
Such a solution, if the number of infections are radically reduced, would give more hope for our human life and the economy of the country. France has budgeted 15 billion Euros for each month of lockdown, a lot of money! I see no “Orwellian” conspiracy here!
I hope this time that everything will be implemented with more coherence and common sense. I’m used to it: I have had very little social life this year and have travelled very little – no trips to England for Church or family. Being shut in will make many people very unhappy. I believe that God calls us to be patient and live with incertitude, and do what we can to teach people to turn loneliness into contemplative solitude. We know that violence and civil disobedience are not the way. There will be better days…
Lockdown started in France last night. M. Macron has decided on this solution to get infections down to below 5,000 a day. All the practical information is now in the mainstream news. It seems that the churches are closed again, but people can visit the cemeteries for All Souls. I am less likely to lose all my income because businesses needing translations will still be working. It is designed to be a softer lockdown than the one last spring. It will be a time for reading, writing, doing practical things and thinking about various other matters in my life.
As a priest, I am very conscious of my vocation to minister to people who are deprived of the liturgy and the Sacraments, or who find the Church more of a weight than a vehicle of grace. As a priest of the ACC – Patrimony of the Metropolitan, I will resume recordings of Mass of Sundays and feasts like All Saints and All Souls. I will also record spiritual conferences in English in the old Oratorian style.
As already mentioned today, I have coped reasonably well with very little social life. It is an advantage of autism! Many people will be distressed in the coming weeks, and this intention must be firmly in our hearts as we face this new restriction of our lives. There are other lockdowns in other countries. M. Macron told us to be in solidarity at a civil level, which is his job. As a priest I ask you all to be united in prayer and to put aside ideology and hatred. If we are being lied to, justice will fall on the politicians like a ton of bricks!
To give some impressions on lockdown in France. It’s the first day today. I live in a country village near a small town (Yvetot). The atmosphere is totally different from last March. People who can’t work at home are going to work and more shops are open than last time, not only supermarkets but also DIY shops where tools and materials can be bought, not only by professionals but all of us. We are already used to the “barrier gestures” and people are wearing masks, most of them properly.
There is less anxiety. There have been protests in the big cities, but nothing significant. The whole thing has been designed to quash transmission of the virus to the maximum, whilst leaving as much as possible of the economy intact. A percentage will be lost as those businesses having to close will get financial help from the State.
The French authorities recognise the failures and where things have gone wrong. I am thankful that the Macron government is more pragmatic and transparent than in some other countries. It is an exercise in social engineering, and manipulation has been necessary so as not to cause a general insurrection. We now also have the radical Islamist problem as well as Covid, like the UK has its impending Brexit with all its incertitudes. We have to have our attestation papers to justify why we are not at home, but I have seen no police or gendarmes in the street checking people.
It has all been designed to have us sacrifice social life for a time, and if the infection rates go down enough, we might be allowed to go back to the curfew system that allows us more freedom to move around (taking the dog for walks on the beach, etc.). It is a bind, but we have to live with it. We just have to get the infection rate down until they can get us the vaccine. Yes, I go with the mainstream view because the “herd immunity” way would result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and people maimed for life. Get the carers, doctors and vulnerable people vaccinated, and then we all wait our turn.
We just have to adapt until the virus mutates into a harmless strain and infection rates go down to those of colds and flu. I recommend Dr John Campbell, who knows his stuff about epidemics and microbiology. His teaching method may seem at times to be plodding and slow, but he is scientific in his approach. He has no political axe to grind.
I accept the notion of avoiding the two extremes of:
- taking a massive gamble by lifting all restrictions and allowing the virus to take its course and cause “herd immunity”, at the cost of what some scientists think would be hundreds of thousands of deaths and so many sick people that the hospital system would collapse under the weight,
- closing down the economy and sacrifice people suffering from other physical and psychological health problems.
Many will think that such an attempt to find the right compromise in the absence of a proven vaccine is absurd on the basis of most of those who have contracted the disease have very little or no symptoms at all.
I would hope that we attain herd immunity (preferably with a vaccine) with as few deaths and serious illnesses as possible. The hospital system is a subject of concern. I have read the Barrington Declaration. Dr Campbell debunks an alarmist interpretation of the Imperial College research and maintains lasting immunity to the virus in those who have caught it and recovered. Dr Gupta stands her ground, and Dr Campbell advances the idea that T cells can provide immunity even if the antibodies have faded away. I trust Dr Campbell’s political neutrality, good judgement and professional expertise. The problem is protecting those who will become seriously ill, including some young people – and preventing a situation of doctors having to select who will get treatment and who will be left to die. That is the difficulty with the Barrington Declaration, even though we all want this virus to go away.
We enter a new period of uncertainty. Is that not life? There have been other adversities in human history, wars and atrocious plagues and epidemics. It is truly time for us to come to terms with ourselves and begin to unite with God. We may be deprived of church, socialising, the warmth of human contact, but now we are called to the eremitical life, contemplation and self-sufficiency. Again, this will be a bitter pill for many of us. Being faced with himself can drive a man mad, just like being alone at sea on a boat. It is up to us to play by the rules, just on the off-chance that “they” could be right, and that our priority is to reduce infections and accept the vaccine when it is approved and available.