France cautiously celebrates Bastille Day, clouded by virus

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Bastille Day is back, sort of. France celebrated its legal holiday Wednesday with thousands of troops marching during a Paris parade, warplanes roaring overhead and traditional parties around the country after last year’s events were scaled back due to virus fears. This year those fears are still lurking, but the govt decided to travel ahead with the parade on the Champs-Elysees anyway, as a part of a broader effort to return to pre-pandemic activity. the number of onlookers was limited, and that they were restricted to a little section of the parade. additionally, everyone attending had to point out a special pass proving they need been fully vaccinated, had recently recovered from the virus or a had negative virus test. Similar restrictions are going to be in situ for those gathering to observe an elaborate fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday evening.

Spectators converged on Paris from around France, glad to be ready to see the show face to face albeit frustrated with the restrictions and long lines for virus security checks. “I came especially for my son who is marching today,” said Gaelle Henry from the northern city of Lille. “It’s nice to be ready to get out a touch bit and eventually get some fresh air and think that each one the people are here, which we are becoming back to normal a touch bit.” Masks were ubiquitous among the smaller-than-usual crowds along the avenue, and obligatory for the dignitaries watching the show under a red-white-and-blue awning emulating the French flag. The marching soldiers were unmasked — the French military said they need all been fully vaccinated or freshly tested for the virus.

Some cheers rose up as President Emmanuel Macron rode atop a military scout car along the cobblestoned Champs-Elysees, past restaurants, luxury boutiques, and movie theaters that were shuttered for much of the pandemic. The clatter of many horseshoes accompanied the military march as uniformed guards on horseback escorted the president. Organizers of this year’s event dubbed it an “optimistic Bastille Day” aimed toward “winning the future” and “celebrating a France standing together behind the tricolor (flag) to emerge from the pandemic.” While that optimism was widely felt in France a couple of weeks ago, clouds have returned to the national mood because the delta variant fuels new infections and prompted Macron to announce new vaccine rules in the week. Leading the parade were members of a French-driven European force fighting extremists in Mali and therefore the surrounding Sahel region.

Macron announced last week that France is pulling a minimum of 2,000 troops from the region due to evolving threats, and focusing more efforts on the multi-national Takuba force instead. Among others honored at the parade were military medics who have shuttled vaccines to France’s overseas territories, treated virus patients, or otherwise helped fight the pandemic. A total of 73 warplanes, medical helicopters, and other aircraft traversed the skies over the Paris region. “This moment of conviviality, of reunion, on the eve of our National Day, is first and foremost for us the chance to deal with our brothers in arms and their families, and provides them a message of gratitude,” Macron said during a speech to the French military on Tuesday.

Last year’s parade was canceled and replaced by a static ceremony honoring health care workers who died fighting COVID-19. France has lost quite 111,000 lives to the pandemic, and therefore the government is pushing hard to urge more people vaccinated to fight resurgent infections driven by the delta variant. Bastille Day marks the storming of the Bastille prison in eastern Paris on July 14, 1789, commemorated because of the birth of the French Revolution.

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