Day 3: « The calm before the storm »

Thursday, March 19th

The weirdest thing is when you open your window in the morning, all you hear are the birds and the sound of ambulance sirens in the distance. Normally, it’s the sound of traffic.

We live near one of the biggest hospitals in Lyon. Two of our neighbours and good friends are nurses. I spoke to one of them this evening. She works in the maternity unit, specialised in pathological pregnancies. She says all the measures are being taken to be prepared when it hits: they are sending people home and not taking on any non-emergency cases to free up beds. She says the atmosphere is eery – like the calm before the storm. The number of known cases is doubling every 72 hours in France.

They know the peak is coming, like in Italy and already some parts of France, where they are having to “prioritise” – and they are getting prepared. She also says it makes her very upset to see people are not respecting the confinement order. “We are putting our own lives on the line by going to work every day, and all they have to do is stay home. I would stay home, too, if I could.” But it is not an option of course, and she is keeping all her strength for the weeks to come. She knows it is going to be very hard. She says they are running low on masks and hydro-alcoholic gel. “It is like our precious,” she says with a smile in her voice, referring to The Lord of the Rings. “We use it very sparingly, we are afraid of running out. They say we should change our masks every four hours. But we don’t have enough, so we wear the same mask throughout the entire shift.”

For the past three days, every evening at 8pm, people have been gathering at their open windows, clapping and cheering, to thank the medical staff, who are on the frontline of what Mr Macron has called a war. What started out as a timid manifestation on Tuesday has grown into a loud and clear message of support thanks to social media. My friend says she is very moved by it.

I went out running today, and am now wondering whether I should keep doing it, even though it is allowed. There are a growing number of voices calling for people to self-isolate completely, to eliminate all chances of contamination and show solidarity as a community. The Dane in me gets that, the French in me gets cabin fever. When I was out running, I saw a couple of men who have created a makeshift shelter for themselves along one of the city’s main shopping streets – which was totally deserted. They have no home to be confined in, no public toilet to use and wash in, and no soup kitchen to go to for warm meals. An elderly Algerian lady whom they knew before the crisis still comes and brings them food.

Confinement for the homeless on the streets of central Lyon

A close friend called this evening to say that both her husband and youngest child are suffering from high fever and diarrhea. We went out together for what was to be our last walk in the countryside on Sunday. We adults kept the recommended distance, but it’s much harder for kids. She can’t ask her mother to come and help with homeschooling the two older children as any contact with seniors is obviously out of the question.

I just spoke to my own 75-year old father, who is keeping his spirits up, holed up in his house in southern France, some 400 kilometres from here. Just two weeks ago, we were visiting him, blissfully unaware of what was to come. He is gardening a lot, speaking on the phone to his siblings in Denmark, and has invented a competition for his four grandchildren to enter via email, which will last for the duration of the confinement – it’s a good thing he is resourceful and full of imagination!

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