For Thoughtful Thursday, a few thoughts about de-confinement. On Monday here in France, we are supposed to be starting a gradual reopening, dependent on several factors, including sufficient testing kits for 700,000 people a week, availability of ICU beds, and accessible supplies of masks for the general population (which will be mandatory in certain places like public transport and schools set to reopen on a rolling schedule. Fines apply if you don’t comply). Non-essential shops, like salons, and certain venues like museums, will also be able to reopen if they can meet certain safety criteria.
The plan sounds swell to me, and we’ll hear more details today, but mayors across France are panicking, and have written an open letter to President Macron. They’re not ready to reopen, they complained, and feel forced to do so. Where are the tests promised? The masks? Is this more about the reopening the economy than public welfare?
It crossed my mind yesterday, when I spent an entire day searching for masks.* As someone with asthma, I knew I needed to be sure I had a mask going into de-confinement. Monoprix (a large chain like Target) had a supply on Monday that sold out same day. Several other stores and pharmacies were also sold out. Where were all the masks? Initially, they released 2 million masks in Paris and word is they will increase this, but we are a city of 10 million people (if you count the suburbs), and if you’re not supposed to reuse non-washable masks, and have a family of four, how would that work? It’s understandable that hospitals and those at risk should get priority, and I know it hasn’t been easy for France to acquire masks, but if we are reopening Monday, and we can’t get enough masks easily, are we reopening ourselves up to more infection?
But is it really a problem, as city mayors have suggested, or are we ready for this, as Prime Minister Philippe indicated in his “déconfinement” presentation?
It’s hard to know what’s true. In general, I have confidence in France’s handling of this pandemic compared to other countries. But I’ve come to discover that here, as anywhere, some politicians are politicizing the pandemic. It could be that Socialist mayors, like Paris’s Anne Hidalgo (a vocal rival of the president), are just pushing back on Macron and his party to make a point (and garner votes in the municipal elections). The Senate voted against reopening in a symbolic gesture (the National Assembly has the lead role in lawmaking), delivering a clear message: we are not on your side. PM Philippe spent a good deal of his last address chiding assembly members who did not vote in the last round. There were “too many abstentions,” he said. And called those who would politicize the pandemic “shameful.”
So, what’s the truth? Are politicians and lawmakers truly concerned that Macron, a notorious supporter of big business, along with his appointed right-leaning prime minister could be putting the economy first? Or is this just a political game?
It makes it hard for the average Jean or Jeanne to feel confident about the reopening planned for this coming Monday, if he or she can’t be sure leaders have pure motives. In fact, it’s hard for anyone in any country to put their trust in leadership if there is a sense that the pandemic is being using as a tool for votes, or to create greater control, or worst of all: to make money.
Who can we trust to lead us out of this mess? That’s the overwhelming theme I see on Facebook these days. The despair this lack of trust creates is only adding to the stress of this pandemic. What can you do?
Up to now, we’ve been living safely in our confinement bubbles, worrying only about ourselves and our families. And it’s given us a sense of control over something uncontrollable. But as we reopen our cities and countries, and open ourselves up to greater risk, we will need leadership more than ever. If you feel central government can’t be trusted, then look to local government. If they can’t get it together, it’s time to form community leadership. Start with your street if you have to. Tap into organizations that already exist in your town, and ban together to create your own safety protocols. Put pressure on government to do their job. Lead by example.
We have to live with this virus for a long time, and to do that, we will need to take charge where our leaders fall short. Reopening our cities and countries means reopening our world, looking outward to our neighbors, banning together and creating our own safe communities. This is not just government’s problem to solve, it’s each of ours. The way through this is not every man for himself; it’s one for all, all for one.
*Dear readers: Before you post a comment about fabric masks and mail order, don’t worry, I do know about that. Here’s a site from a friend of mine who makes masks using her photography of France. Her philosophy: if you have to wear them, they might as well be cute!
On today’s bookshelf