• Mary MacCarthy

Covid-19 realities hit France: mask shortages, remote work

Updated: May 7, 2020

Clement Masse is a television reporter based in central France. We chatted via Facebook messenger on March 20, a few days after all of France was placed under strict quarantine (but when many French people were still not staying home).

HOW AM I GETTING BY? I'm a French reporter based in Poitiers, France and, so far, my family and I are doing fine. This is my fourth day working from home.

My newsroom was shut down for three days on two coronavirus suspicions… That same week, the first person to officially die of the virus in our area, a woman in her older 80's, passed away at the Poitiers regional hospital.

On the day after, news came that several other residents from the retirement home where she lived near Poitiers and some medical staff there were also diagnosed with the virus. Now, official statistics from our Regional Health Agency show 33 cases.

I'm writing this to show that if we are doing ok so far in areas such as mine where the spread of the virus has been much slower than in other parts of France, as in Eastern France for example, the virus is nonetheless circulating all over the country and is obviously hovering over our heads. My friend Phil texted me late last night to say that his Mom (who's in her 60's) had a bad cough, was running a high fever and had difficulties breathing. Phil's wife is a family doctor near Rennes, France, and I hope she has proper protection to see her mother-in-law through.

Several years ago, France had all the proper equipment to face a pandemic but decided to let local agencies and hospitals manage the stockpiles. Supplies started to run low and were not replaced! Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in France, many doctors, dentists, and nurses have been working with unfit protection. So if you're asking me how I'm getting by, I'll tell you again that I'm fine, but I'm angry. There is no reason why a perfectly developed country such as France should run low on surgical or protection masks or on hand sanitizer.

Just a few days ago, as I left the office for my lunch break, I decided to get some groceries. I went to our local store which is usually empty at noon. But on that day, it was crowded with people doing their everyday grocery shopping. Except that they were doing it as if they were fixing lunches and dinners for a dozen family reunions.

People were quiet but I could feel a sense of unease in each aisle. An old lady excused herself for trying to reach for her favorite crispbread. But there was none left. She said she wouldn't buy any other brand. I thought she might break into tears. That's how nervous people were deep down inside. You and I know that in ordinary times, no one would actually care that a kind of a crispbread is missing at the store.

That’s the moment I realized that these are no longer ordinary days.

As I was putting away the groceries at home (fridge filled to the top, freezer too, and cupboard packed with preserves and cookies and madeleines), I turned on the news on the radio. A doctor at a hospital was being interviewed on what to expect from the virus, was it an epidemic, a pandemic as the World Health Organisation calls it, what did he make of people's reaction? The doctor concluded on these words which I will try to quote from memory: "People's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is similar to a patient's reaction upon first being told that he has three months left to live. At first, he doesn't believe his doctor. Then, he becomes angry at him and at the rest of the world, and then, thirdly, he understands and accepts his fate. Right now, we're still at stage one. We need to get to stage three real quick."

On that day, I decided I would stay home. My boss called and before I had a chance to tell her that, she said that the newsroom was closed and that we were all working from home. We wrote pieces for our website and a limited number of reporters were sent out on stories with protection masks and strict rules to follow to protect themselves as they interviewed people. I've been staying at home since and have no desire to go out. #jerestealamaison has become my hashtag. #Imstayinghome!

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