Lockdown-defying Parisians pose challenge for authorities

Paris (AFP) –


After six weeks of being stuck in their homes, a growing number of Parisians appear unable to wait for the May 11 lifting of the nationwide lockdown, venturing out even as officials warn of a new surge in COVID-19 cases if people let down their guard too early.

The city's parks may be closed, but spring sunshine drew throngs of strollers to canals and other promenades over the weekend, despite strict social distancing decrees.

Joggers packed sidewalks and paths of public lawns that could not be blocked off, in particular at the forested Boulogne and Vincennes parks at opposite ends of the city, before the daytime jogging ban came into effect.

And social media was abuzz with a video of a few dozen people dancing in a Montmartre square to the tune of Dalida's "Laissez-moi Danser" (Let me Dance) on Saturday night.

Police showed up nearly immediately to disperse the crowd, and the DJ reportedly promised to no longer blast songs from his window.

But a police source told AFP that no tickets were handed out for breaching the confinement rules, which can see people without a valid reason to be out fined 135 euros ($146).

"Overall, Parisians are being civic-minded," said Pierre-Yves Bournazel, a city council member for the 18th arrondissement where the impromptu disco took place.

"But if we want to avoid new contagions, we're going to have to respect the measures in place," he said.

Overall, police have carried out more than 1.1 million checks in Paris alone since the lockdown was imposed on March 17, issuing around 69,000 fines, officials said Saturday.

But as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe prepares to lay out post-confinement plans Tuesday, more Parisians could be tempted to get out of cramped apartments before May 11, when some stores and schools are set to reopen.

- 'It's not easy' -

Mickael, one of the hundreds of Parisians along the Ourcq canal, told AFP that "from a humane perspective, it's not easy staying cooped up in a house all day long. Humans aren't designed to live like that, isolated like that."

Eric, wearing a bandanna over his mouth and nose, admitted that he had been going out every day "to walk around the block and get some exercise".

"You can put a cross for fitness, so there you go," he said, referring to one of the seven allowed reasons for leaving on the self-signed document everyone must carry when going out.

Emmanuel Latil, one of the dozens of public safety officers deployed across Paris, spent the weekend urging people hanging out in the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern edge of the city.

"The security ribbons forbidding access were torn down, so people didn't realise they weren't allowed in," he said.

He later told two women in the park: "Be careful. I can see you've touched the benches, so wash your hands well before touching your faces."