This is what life in France is like under the coronavirus lockdown

France has been on lockdown since noon on Tuesday, March 17th. Five days in, here's how the country is dealing with it.

This is what life in France is like under the coronavirus lockdown
Police verify the coronavirus lockdown form of woman walking on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on March 20th, which would be closed off to the public later that day. Photo: AFP

In an effort to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus epidemic in the country, the French government has banned all non-essential commercial activities and issued strict rules on all outside activity in all of France.

Except for grocery shopping, going to work (for those who have to), to the pharmacy or doing some brief exercise, people are to stay in their own respective homes for at least 15 days – a period that will likely be extended.

“By staying at home, you are saving lives,” France's interior minister Christophe Castaner said. He reiterated the government's message that everyone must carry their part of the effort to limit spread of the coronavirus, to ease the pressure on the country's overstretched health system. The best thing you could to to serve your country, the government said, was sit on your couch and wait it out.


Outside, the visual impact of the ban was swift and impressive. Barely a week ago, the Paris' cafés, bars and restaurants still gathered crowds of people. Now, the French capital looks like an empty, ghost-like version of its former self. 

In Ivry-sur-Seine, a suburb southeast of Paris usually buzzing with people, the streets were nearly empty on Friday morning. Only a few joggers could be spotted running around the small local park. Around, not inside. The park, like all Parisian parks, had been closed to the public. 

La peche?” (feeling good?) one jogger shouted to another who was working out on one of the benches outside the park entry. 

Physical activity was still allowed in France, although restricted to a practice close to home

The two men exchanged a few words, but kept their required one metre distance.

A long line of people queued up outside the usually overcrowded local Carrefour supermarket, carefully keeping their distance as they waited to be let in one handful at the time.

It was a scene repeated across France. Some supermarkets are handing out plastic gloves to shoppers while many staff now wear masks.

People queueing outside the Carrefour supermarket in Ivry. Photo: Stan Vignon

Attitude shift

This fastidiously following of the rules represented a drastic attitude shift from what France had seen just a week earlier. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the lockdown the day after people in several parts of the country had defied the government's call on everyone to stop all socialising outside, by crowding in parks and taking in the sun on the Paris riverbanks.


On Friday, four days into the lockdown, the government's mantra restez chez vous – ‘stay in your homes’ – seemed to be echoed wherever you looked.

French news channel France Info had adopted the hashtag #Restez à la maison – stay at home – as a permanent feature on their live show. Social media users posted memes, videos and pictures under the hashtag #restezchezvous to motivate others to stay put in their house. 

“The quicker everyone respects the rules, the quicker we will get back our bars, our restaurants, our going outs,” on person tweeted;


But what were really the rules? 

In the few days following the lockdown, there was much confusion as to how exactly the rules were supposed to be maintained. One thing was clear: if you left your home, you had to bring the mandatary form stating where you were going. But some of the categories were vague. Did 'physical exercise' mean you could bike or not? How far were runners allowed to run? If you lived together were you allowed to do groceries together, or dit one person have to go alone?

No one, it seemed, had the same answers and there were reports of police officers following different rules in different areas.

“We went to Lidl, set off home and got stopped by police who were satisfied with our form,” Lesley wrote to us.

“Then, around the corner, we were stopped by a sour faced policeman who told us there should only be one person in the car.”

“But there was lots of cars around with two people in!”

As the days passed, the rules became clearer – and slightly stricter. In some cities, like Nice, mayors have imposed evening curfews, and closed off parts of the city that still gathered crowds of people. No one was allowed to run on the Promenade des Anglais anymore.

Nice has closed off its promenade after too many eager runners and walkers used it at the same time. Photo: AFP

Skype apéros

“Restez chez vous,” it seemed, meant that everyone – not just everyone else – had to stay at home.

To cope with quitting their real social life cold turkey, the French turned to social media. For many, virtual socialisation seemed to become a core part of their personal quarantine survival kit, with Skype apéros, shared film sessions and live pilates classes proliferating online. 

“Lockdown with children, rule number 1,” one Twitter user wrote to the video under.


Parisians fleeing the city

Louise, a French journalist in her early 20s, said she was “definitely” talking more to friends online during the coronavirus lockdown than earlier – even people she usually didn't talk to on a regular basis.

“Everyone is checking in on each other now,” she said.

Louise had jumped on a train to Lyon from Paris on the last day before the lockdown started, escaping the capital last minute together with many other other Parisians.

It was not a very popular move, with some accusing Parisians of nonchalantly dragging the virus do the countryside.

Messages like the one below flourished on Twitter:

“Coronavirus, the fear of lockdown is pushing Parisians to exodus. The bobos (bourgeois) are leaving to contaminate the countryside.. Stay at home, good grief!”


Louise said the criticism was “completely understandable.

“The fear of contaminating my family made me hesitate a lot before going,” she said, adding that, before it started, the concept of lockdown had made her very stressed.

“The idea of not being able to leave my house made me very anxious,” she said.

To Louise, the idea of spending the lockdown together with her parents and sisters in their home outside the city of Lyon seemed far more appealing than being alone in her apartment in Paris.

“I'm spending as much of my day outside as possible, which really helps,” she said.

“Here I am lucky to have a garden and terrasse. That really helps.”

'I feel like  I’m drowning in a tsunami of memes'

But not everyone had found solace in the sudden upsurge of virtual socialisation.

“I went off social media even though everyone is saying this is the most important time to be socially connected,” said Ariana, an American freelancer in her mid 20s.

“I feel like I’m drowning in a tsunami of memes,” she said.

Ariana was currently staying alone in a friend’s studio in a southern suburb of Paris.

“My friends and family have my phone number and email, so we're still in touch.”

“I just think constantly taking in this content could actually induce more anxiety. It’s too much, and there’s so much disinformation out there, that I prefer to just read the news.”



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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body has outlined how Covid-19 rules will change on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules will relax in France as the country ends compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes will take effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 will return to normal on February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 will have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that will begin in February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.