PARIS – At the Montparnasse train station in Paris, the contrast could not have been sharper.
About a year ago, in the face of the first national lockdown against a raging coronavirus epidemic, Parisians desperately jammed trains to make Montparnasse a place of fear and worry and the capital a ghost town.
But on Friday morning, a day before the third national lockdown began, pedestrian traffic within Montparnasse train station and elsewhere in Paris was relatively low. The mood was deeply exhausted from restrictions that will once again severely limit travel through France, restrict people’s movements in their communities and close schools.
“There is a bit of fatigue,” said Muriel Sallandre, who took a train to visit her parents in western France but planned to return to Paris in a few days. “The lack of perspective depending on the government embassies – all of this is a little depressing at the end of the day.”
Many French rushed to buy train tickets immediately after the announcement of a new lockdown on Wednesday evening. As a result, the capital’s train stations are likely to be overcrowded on weekends as travelers planning to spend the final block outside Paris mingle with those visiting relatives at Easter. Some Parisians also left the capital after restrictions were imposed in the capital region a few weeks ago.
But nothing like last year’s exodus was expected as the panic has largely given way to resignation. Although President Emmanuel Macron had pledged that this would be France’s last national lockdown before life returns to normal, there was no clear light at the end of the tunnel: infections are rising as France’s total death toll from the epidemic is close to 100,000, and, as in the rest of the European Union, progress on the vaccination campaign remains painfully slow.
“I think we will be banned even more strictly in a month’s time,” said Marie-Yvonne Bougrel, 53, adding that she did not feel that the measures implemented are really effective.
Like many others at the station, Ms Bougrel said she was disappointed with the slow introduction of vaccines that had hit France since late December, adding that she only knew one person who had been vaccinated.
In a national televised address on Wednesday, watched live by around half of France’s 67 million residents, President Emmanuel Macron announced another national lockdown after months of opposition from epidemiologists and pressure from political rivals. Mr Macron had unsuccessfully bet that, despite increasing infections and new powerful variants, a national lockdown could be avoided if enough people were vaccinated at a constant pace.
However, logistical and other self-contained problems exacerbated the difficulties of a campaign that relied on vaccines that did not go as expected, particularly by Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which was experiencing production bottlenecks and fulfilling orders to the UK due to its contracts demanded first.
His vaccine, which France and other European countries are heavily relying on to get them out of the pandemic, has also been plagued by concerns about rare but sometimes fatal side effects that temporarily led them to discontinue its use. Some nations still don’t give it out or limit who gets it.
The mood among the French has darkened as other nations, particularly the UK and the United States, have recovered from catastrophic handling of the epidemic with successful vaccination campaigns. Only 13 percent of the French population have received at least one vaccine, compared with 47 percent of British and 30 percent of Americans.
At the train station, Brigitte Bidaut, a retired pharmacist, said she was “appalled by what is going on in France”.
April 1, 2021, 11:02 p.m. ET
“The United States was in a mess and now they get 2 million vaccinations a day. The British were completely confused and now they are better, “she said, adding,” Well what can we do? We don’t have cans. Even after four weeks of blocking, I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. ”
A poll released Thursday found the majority of French people were skeptical of the final effects of the new lockdown. In results that reflect the fatigue of the population, 70 percent of French respondents said they approve of the new national lockdown, but 46 percent said they would disregard the measures.
Among young people who have been badly hit by a crisis that has opened psychological wounds and plunged them into deep economic uncertainty, two-thirds of respondents said they were breaking the new rules.
In a country very sensitive to its rank in the global pecking order, France’s frequent abuse of the epidemic and subsequent vaccination campaign has resulted in widespread manual labor. Last year, France relied on China and other nations for masks, test kits, and other basic tools to fight the outbreak.
This time around, the country is totally dependent on outside help for its vaccines – a blow to the nation that produced Louis Pasteur and has a long history of medical breakthroughs.
Antoine Levy, a French economist and graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said France had invested heavily in enforcing its lockdowns, putting millions of workers on paid vacation days, and gradually tightening people’s movement restrictions, but very little in vaccine development .
“Very little investment has been made in what appeared to be the only way out of the crisis, while accepting great sacrifices in terms of public freedom and the economy for a year,” he said.
While countries keep comparing each other in their initial handling of the outbreak, vaccination campaigns, and stimulus plans, the French felt we failed a little on all fronts, Levy said.
The third national lockdown, Mr Levy said, gives the impression that France has returned to the first lockdown in March 2020 and “nothing has changed”.
“This is what creates this sense of decline,” he said.
Others have pointed out that France is the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council that has not developed a vaccine: while the United States and Britain have regained some of the reputational damage thanks to their vaccines, like China and China, Russia has its own vaccines used to gain global influence. France was relegated to the position of spectator.
In late January, the Pasteur Institute announced that it would stop research on its vaccine candidate after disappointing trial results, just a month after Sanofi, France’s largest pharmaceutical company, announced that its own vaccine is unlikely to be ready before the end of 2021.
“It is a sign of the country’s decline and that decline is unacceptable,” said François Bayrou, recently appointed commissioner for long-term government planning by Mr Macron, in a radio interview in January.
The problems with the vaccines have made many French people of all ages deeply skeptical and pessimistic.
“I’m still waiting to see it, but I think it’s an illusion to believe in a return to normal,” said Victor Cormier, 22, a college student.
Andrée Girard, 61, a pensioner, said she could not book an appointment for a vaccination. She did not believe the new restrictions would contain the epidemic for good and feared that France would be stuck in a “stop and go” pattern for the foreseeable future.
Regarding Mr Macron’s promise on Wednesday that France would reopen in mid-May, Ms Girard said: “I am skeptical of a light at the end of the tunnel. You made promises over the past year that have not been kept. ”
“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ll get our old life back.”
Gaëlle Fournier contributed to the coverage.