The famous Café de Flore has closed its doorsPhoto: Amy Verner

This past August, I read The Plague, the absurdist novel by Albert Camus about life under quarantine for the inhabitants of a small town in Algeria. After visiting my family in Toronto, I had returned to an empty Paris. I would take the book to the Palais Royal each afternoon, and when I walked home, I would sometimes be the only person in the streets. Anyone who has spent late summer here can attest to the overwhelming quiet, the surreal calm, and the inability to find a decent open restaurant.

Frankly, I have always adored Paris in its deserted moments. But Paris under lockdown is different. And though The Plague is not a cautionary tale that anticipated the coronavirus pandemic, my dog-eared pages of Camus’s 1947 classic certainly echo with what we are facing today.

A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream which will end. But it does not always end, and from one bad dream to the next, it is people who end,” he wrote with typical human-condition bleakness. Just as sobering: “There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared.”

The night before the confinement took effect, on March 14, President Emmanuel Macron gave his second televised address in five days, declaring in no uncertain terms that we are at war. And indeed, no one was prepared for how drastically and instantaneously the coronavirus would alter our collective reality. On Tuesday, the official numbers revealed that the number of deaths in France due to Covid-19 passed the 1,000-mark, with 240 within the previous 24 hours. The recorded number of cases here is 22,300 with nearly 7,000 occurring in the Ile-de-France department, which includes Paris. Today, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has warned that we are “just at the beginning of the crisis,” while the director of the Paris public hospital system, Martin Hirsch, has made an urgent plea for additional healthcare personnel, ventilators and masks, and medicine, as well as some form of monetary compensation for all those on the front lines. If doctors and nurses around the country are fighting to keep tens of thousands of people alive, and other workers are putting themselves at risk to ensure essential services, Parisians are making every effort to do something that doesn’t come naturally to us: we’re actually staying home. Restons chez nous, vive la France!

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