The wave of solidarity in coronavirus-hit France

French chef Antoine preparing meals for homeless people in Paris, who are hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
French chef Antoine preparing meals for homeless people in Paris, who are hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. © FRANCE 24

As France endures its third week of lockdown to fight the spread of COVID-19, solidarity is stepping up a gear. From home-made face masks and protective shields, to the distribution of meals to the most vulnerable, initiatives to help others are springing up throughout the country. In Paris and Normandy, our reporters Clovis Casali and Julie Dungelhoeff went to meet French people who are refusing to sit back and want to help those most affected by this unprecedented crisis.


The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted daily life for French people since the implementation of an unprecedented lockdown on March 17. Across the country, social initiatives are on the rise to compensate for sometimes glaring shortages.

As the face masks promised by the authorities take time to arrive, some people have started to make masks themselves and provide them to medical staff, particularly in hospitals. Social media play a key role in organising these efforts and pooling expertise. Our reporters Clovis Casali and Julie Dungelhoeff went to the Normandy city of Lisieux, where women from the NGO "Graines d'Idées" (Seeds of Ideas) are making masks on a voluntary basis. They initially responded to a request from Lisieux hospital and are now even producing them for police forces who ordered their home-made masks.

The lockdown has also led to the closure of all non-essential businesses, such as cafés and restaurants. Some chefs have nevertheless decided to continue cooking, so as not to throw out their surplus stocks. They are preparing meals for the homeless, who have seen NGOs reduce their usual outreach work because of the risk of spreading the virus. Our reporters followed Antoine, owner of the restaurant "Les Bols d'Antoine" (Antoine’s Bowls), in the Belleville district of Paris. He criss-crosses the surrounding area to bring meals to the homeless, who are now more isolated than ever.

These social initiatives are accompanied by a widespread show of support from the whole population. Every evening at 8pm, people across the country head to their windows or balconies to applaud the work of medical staff, who are on the frontline to save lives.

As our reporters found, the country seems to be uniting in adversity and rediscovering values ​​of solidarity. While French people are all equal in the face of the virus, some hope that mentalities will change once the invisible enemy is finally defeated.

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