How the coronavirus amplified divisions between rich and poor in Paris

Source: Dateline

As Paris starts to emerge from Coronavirus lockdown Dateline looks at how the pandemic has amplified divisions between the rich and poor.

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On the final day of what has been one of mainland Europe's strictest coronavirus lockdowns, the streets around the Eiffel Tower, down the Champs Elysees and the Avenue de l'Opera remained quiet. 

After eight weeks indoors, only allowed outside for essential shopping and one hour of daily exercise, France is set to lift some restrictions this week. 

There has been a steady downward trend in the country’s key coronavirus figures in recent days, although officials warn that caution is still needed and the risk of a second wave remains.

The government has divided France into green and red areas for Monday's easing of the lockdown, with Paris and three other regions classified as red seeing a more limited relaxation.

But hours before the restrictions had been set to ease,  reports surfaced of two new COVID-19 clusters in areas designated green – where the virus has largely stopped circulating and where most restrictions are being lifted.

Ile De Noirmountier - Ready for an exodus

In the face of lockdown, some 1.2 million Parisians fled the capital for their homes in the countryside - prompting fears of the spread of infection in under resourced rural areas.

Many of them flocked to Ile de-Noirmoutiour, a small island and popular holiday destination off France’s Atlantic Coast. 

The island’s population nearly doubled overnight - but now those Parisians are getting ready to return back home. 

Now, residents of the French capital and its suburbs have been told they can head back the other way as the country prepares to end its lockdown.

Although the government has only allowed travel up to 100km from a place of residence, it has promised to let all Parisians return home, provided they carry a special justification form.

Herve Boche, head of the Island’s Salt Cooperative says although the Island was relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak, the town’s elderly population and lack of resources made locals uneasy with the initial influx. 

“It created fear, because we didn't know, they came from places where there are lots of COVID-19 cases, and they're arriving in a place that is a bit secluded, where population is less dense, so it generated fear. 

“Many of them went to the supermarkets, to do their shopping to fill in their holiday homes to come and stay.”

Difference between rich and poor  now undeniable

Statistics on Paris’ coronavirus deaths have revealed an alarming trend.

Working class neighbourhoods have recorded 128 percent more deaths than wealthy areas.

It’s believed that high infection risk in essential work and the population density of working class areas is behind the spike. 

53-year-old waiter Kiou says the numbers are further evidence of a growing divide between the city’s rich and poor

“Everybody knew that there were disparities in France but not to that extent.

“The COVID crisis revealed that the disparities are getting deeper and they jump out.”

A stark contrast to the empty streets around the Eiffel tower, in Kiou’s suburb, Nanterre, the streets are busy with poorer, mostly working class essential workers on their daily commutes. 

“80 percent of working people have an essential job, whether it is in the metro, cashiers in supermarkets, healthcare staff, etc, they earn the minimum wage and less, they are precarious jobs.”

“This crisis also reveals that those who are working not only don’t earn enough but they are also exposed to all the risks.”

An uncertain future

France has had more than 139,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, resulting in more than 26,000 deaths, according to official figures.

While many were happy to see the end of the “stay home” rule others were more cautious. 

An Ifop poll in Le Parisien suggested 65 percent of French people believe a cautious approach is more important than a rapid return to normal life. At the same time, 58 percent believe the economic crisis sparked by COVID-19 is the biggest risk to the country.