Time for a catch up on the situation here in France.
It has been an interesting ride since April when I last wrote about life in the north of France.
Back then we were under curfew and suffering from a somewhat slow roll-out of the various vaccines. We had started with the accepted formula that the first to be vaccinated should be the elderly and the vulnerable. It didn’t go so well for a number of reasons. Many people were suspicious of the vaccines ; the very low temperature that the Pfizer vaccine needed to be stored at didn’t make it transport friendly – those in care homes not being easily transportable ; younger workers, often in close contact industries, were not being protected and became the spreaders.
There had also been shortages of vaccine supplies. Europe had decided to pool its demands from the producers and whilst individual member States could do their own thing, most didn’t. One of the lies about Brexit was that the UK could not have gone it alone whilst within the EU, yet Slovakia and Hungary both invested in the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Things slowly improved and on 3rd May the requirements for us to self certify for every trip and limits on distances were removed. The curfew was relaxed a bit and would eventually disappear altogether with the onset of summer.
The distance thing had nearly posed a problem at a personal level because as we had gone back into confinement I had ordered a new car from my garage at Fruges in the Pas de Calais. Within our own Département we were allowed to go wherever we liked but were limited to 30 km on crossing the boundary – and Fruges was really pushing cartographic juggling on my part !
The car turned up and I became the proud owner of my first ever petrol driven car. Electric or even hybrid were well out of my range for the sort of vehicle I needed. It is smaller than my old car and as even the cheaper E10 petrol (10% ethanol mix) is more expensive than diesel its turning out to be quite a bit more expensive to run. Even more so now as the price of petrol goes through the roof (E10 was 1.61 € a litre the other day about a 30% increase in a matter of months).
On the 8th May I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccination system was really beginning to take off in France as more doses became readily available. The system couldn’t have been simpler. I went onto a site called Vitemadose, this offered me all available time slots for my locality and informed me as to which vaccine was used. I chose my date, time and location and the system immediately booked me in for the second dose eight weeks later. On the day, I arrived in front of the centre (all the parking in the street was reserved for vaccination recipients) wandered in, was given two forms to fill in and a scrubbed down pen to write with (not having taken one with me).
One form was a basic who I was, address details etc. The other was a medical questionnaire covering two pages of possible problems. The centre was divided up into cubicle spaces each with a doctor and a nurse. The first interviewed everybody and provided the authorisation for the vaccination and the second administered it. After that I was directed to the admin section where they confirmed the second appointment and printed out my official vaccination certificate. This had a QR code on it which I promptly scanned into my Covid App. This allows me to produce evidence of the vaccination (as well as any tests I might undertake).
On receipt of the second dose I scanned the second code into the App and this would, later, form my Pass Sanitaire. The only further update being that when the European Union joined all the systems up I was able to download a new EU version which can be read across the Union.
What exactly is our Pass Sanitaire ? On 12th July President Macron announced that as from the 21st July restrictions would start being imposed on many establishments, requiring those using the facilities to either be fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative PCR test less than forty-eight hours old.
Those between twelve and seventeen years of age would be exempt until the 30th August. Now you might think that the French would have been up in arms about being told that they needed a medical certificate to have a coffee or eat a meal in a restaurant. As things turned out not at all. The usual suspects were out on the streets and rent a mob did some damage for a few weeks. This last weekend saw 40,000 protest across all of France. Well down on the starting parades.
In effect Macron pulled a blinder. Whilst he did (in the same address) give those in the health services until 30th September to get vaccinated or risk being suspended he didn’t make it compulsory for Joe Public. But, if you wanted to do pretty much anything or go anywhere you needed to be vaccinated or constantly going for tests.
Despite the fact that up until October the tests were free (and costing the Health Service billions of Euros) the French settled on vaccination as the easiest route and 1.3 million appointments were booked within days of Macron’s announcement. By August 10 million first doses had been made.
The 30th September also marked the moment that adolescents between twelve years and two months and seventeen were required to have the pass. Almost three quarters of our teenagers are currently fully vaccinated.
We are now starting the booster dose roll out to us oldies and those with health problems. I’ve already received my letter saying I need to organise a date but it has to be six months after the second dose. About holiday time then and alongside the flu jab (you can have them both on the same day but they suggest not in the same arm !).
As a quick round off then, our case rate is below the 50/100k threshold and that means that our school childer under ten no longer wear masks in class. Mask wearing is still compulsory pretty much everywhere indoors. In a number of scenarios outside as well. Hand gel is still doing a roaring business. Controls on the pass are running at a high percentage. That said most of the staff at my swimming pool now just wave me through. At the cinema though you won’t even get inside to book a ticket without the pass. At a café you sit down, the waiter comes along, scans your pass and takes your order – in most cases, I have to say, not all the time ; I wasn’t checked yesterday.
The pass by the way contains no more than my name and the details of the vaccination’s batch, and date. In theory you can be asked for ID as well to prove that it indeed refers to you but I’ve not heard of anybody being asked.
I’ve changed the car and been vaccinated, so what else is new ? Well, I am finally a legal Brexit immigrant in France having received my Art50 resident’s card. In English it’s called WARP which is very Star Trek (Withdrawal Agreement Resident’s Permit).
Out on the battlefields there have been a few things going on but generally all very small scale. The September heritage weekend at Loos-en-Gohelle which combines both the British Battle of Loos and the Canadians’ Battle of Hill 70 was cancelled during the summer. The problem for the organisers is trying to forecast what the health picture is going to look like in six months time. At the time the decision was made the case rate in France had gone up a bit and the fear was that come colder weather it could take off again. Not sure about the colder weather because our summer up here was a wash out and when it wasn’t wet it was sunny with high winds.
I have this week received an invitation to the Armistice wreath laying at Bénifontaine where we have our Hill 70 plaque, so perhaps we may be seeing a return to a more normal situation. Last year’s commemorations were all very much a case of don’t turn up, the Maire will lay a wreath, end of.
The biggest battlefield thing that I have done this past six months was a visit to the Memorial Park at Vimy. By chance I noticed in the local paper that 403 Squadron RCAF, who were on training exercises in France would be visiting the memorial on 17th October, bringing three Griffon helicopters with them whilst on their way to Normandy. The weather could hardly have been better and a fair sized crowd of us were ushered onto the memorial balconies leaving the esplanade below free as a heli-pad.
I am sure that the crews were getting as much out of the visit as we were because they treated us to multiple passes over the twin pylons before landing. We did laugh though because having got everybody lined up ready for a wreath laying it became evident that none of the Canadians had masks, so somebody had to go off and get some. Quite why they were needed I am not sure but needless to say when the French party turned up, it was completely masked. Whatever !
That’s about it from France for the moment. We have our fingers crossed for the coming winter and the possibility of a life a little more normal come new year.
The Memorial Project’s ‘man at the front’.