Time for the COVID-19 lockdown threats and citizen-policing to stop

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — It’s been a year since French President Emmanuel Macron announced in a nationally televised address that “we are at war with the SarsCoV-2 coronavirus.” An entire year of suboptimal living has trickled through time’s hourglass. Some have tried to sensibly go about their daily lives while being citizen-policed, harassed and lectured by paranoid, self-righteous fellow citizens under the pretext that everyone else’s basic freedoms represent a potentially deadly risk to their own survival.

For example, someone sneezed in the water at the local outdoor pool here in Paris the other day — one of about four swimming pools that remain open to serve more than 12 million Parisians during the current partial lockdown and 6 p.m. curfew period. Sneezy was promptly lectured by a lifeguard about the need to bring tissues with him poolside. (Are they really that naive to not know what else people discharge in swimming pools?) Patrons entering or leaving the deck area were yelled at by security staff for failing to wear masks into and out of the showers. No one should need a study on the effectiveness of soggy Kleenex or masks to understand that sanitary theatrics have become a safe haven for hypochondriacs, previously closeted fascists and bored busybodies.

The entire last year has catered to such people, to the detriment of everyone else. Some of us didn’t wait around for the government to dictate how we should protect ourselves from viruses. COVID-19 wasn’t even the first contagion to overwhelm French hospitals. Nearly every year in recent memory, a nasty seasonal bug has resulted in headlines about Paris hospitals being unable to cope. But some of us didn’t spend our time harassing others to wash their hands or giving people a death stare when they sneezed or coughed. Instead, we took a page from the well-worn playbook in Asia and loaded up on masks for flu season. When COVID-19 came along, we were ready. But most weren’t — and subsequently looked to government to protect them.

Governments are only too happy to oblige. Having carte blanche to micromanage citizens’ daily lives under the guise of saving them from imminent danger is a nanny-state dream. It gives politicians the opportunity to take center stage, pound the podium, wave their arms around, look steely-eyed into the camera and adopt a grave tone in front of a captive audience. For once, they appear to be justifying their existence.

In that context, Macron plunged country into one of the strictest lockdowns in the world for an initial two weeks, which then dragged on for two months. In that time, we were barely able to leave our homes with the exception of a grocery run or one hour of exercise, once a day, in a one-kilometer radius from home.

Who could have imagined that one year later, we’d still be waking up every day to headlines in French newspapers evoking the specter of yet another lockdown. This represents a colossal failure on several levels.

First, for the European Union, upon which member states such as France have relied to assure an adequate vaccine supply. That supply apparently hasn’t materialized. Just over 5 million French citizens (out of 67 million) have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Health Ministry statistics — partly due to a supply problem originating with the EU.

Second, for France itself, which can’t get the supply that it does possess into the arms of people fast enough to avoid lockdown talk.

Third, for the pro-lockdown crowd, which can’t seem to find any solutions for resuming daily living — or accepting that others want to — despite having an entire year to figure out a way to adapt.

One year into this fiasco, all the solutions to resume daily life are clear and present. One can choose to vaccinate, lock oneself at home until vaccination, or lock oneself down indefinitely. Those are the choices government should be communicating to people rather than constantly evoking the potential for another sweeping state-imposed lockdown to distract us from the fact that the government itself has failed to take adequate measures to bolster its resources.

Government has no more right to impose lockdowns on people to offset its own inadequacies than one has the right to scream at an Uber driver to get to the airport faster simply because of a failure to leave adequate time for the trip.

On some level, it seems like Macron himself understands this. For the past several weeks, he has resisted imposing another lockdown despite the parade of officials publicly evoking it. Instead, the French president seems focused on transferring intensive care patients from overwhelmed hospitals to underwhelmed hospitals and demanding an acceleration of vaccinations.

Macron needs to stay that particular course. The pandemic is now entirely government’s problem and should no longer be downloaded onto the backs of citizens. It’s time to wash (or sanitize) our hands of it and stop policing each other’s behavior.