Why Paris public toilets have become an elusive prize during pandemic

With cafes, bars and museums closed to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Parisians are learning what tourists have long known -- finding a public toilet in the French capital requires some sleuthing and plenty of patience.

Why Paris public toilets have become an elusive prize during pandemic
A public toilet in Paris is cleaned in March 2021. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Long lines outside the few facilities available have become a common sight as spring weather draws more people outdoors, in particular at parks or along the banks of the Seine.

“It’s really complicated, especially for girls, because there’s always a line and there aren’t that many toilets,” said Charlotte Le Merdy, a
publishing assistant, waiting with around a dozen others for a break near Notre-Dame cathedral.

Men are more often tempted to duck behind a tree or find a relatively remote wall, which hasn’t helped the city’s complicated relationship with cleanliness.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo is already facing a torrent of complaints about trash and neglect on social media, where hundreds of unflattering photos have been posted with the hashtag “#saccageParis” (trashing of Paris) in recent weeks.

“I probably shouldn’t say it, but you try to go somewhere secluded, in the bushes maybe,” said Romain Chevreux, an event organiser who was enjoying an afternoon near the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s a little complicated, especially because a lot of toilets are out of order, so you do what you have to,” he said.

Luc, a street cleaner near the Place de la Republique, confirmed that “guys piss everywhere – you see that the streets are dirty, that there’s no hygiene.”

‘So filthy’

The city says there are 435 self-cleaning toilets installed across the capital, which saw their usage drop by 20 percent last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

It also counts an additional 50 stand-up urinals and some 300 toilets at parks and gardens, many of which are indexed on the website

But many people are convinced that’s still not enough. And often, the toilets that are working aren’t exactly inviting.

“These toilets are so filthy, going inside is like you’re trying to get sick,” said Bamoye, a bike courier who like his colleagues often has no other choice.

Elie Sabaa, a taxi driver, has developed another strategy in the absence of quick breaks at a cafe.

“Ninety percent of the time I have to go back home because it’s the only place that’s clean,” he said. “It wastes a lot of time.”

The situation has made Parisians all the more impatient for cafes and restaurants to reopen — President Emmanuel Macron has announced that outdoor seating will be allowed starting May 19.

“It does pose a problem when you drink too much in the parks, you want to find a toilet and there’s a massive line,” said English teacher Paris Zeikos.

“You need to be cautious to how much water you drink before, how much water you drink afterwards, and you kind of need to be aware of your surroundings at the same time,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Expanded café terraces to return to Paris this summer

Member comments

  1. What’s missing from the article is why so many of the public toilets are closed right now. It feels as if it is more than they are simply out of order, as some seem to be closed because of COVID.

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Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

As France launches its autumn vaccine campaign, almost half of those eligible for the second booster jab in France have already received it. This has left some wondering whether they could qualify for a third booster, using the new dual-strain vaccines.

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

Question: I’m in my 70s and I had my second booster back in the summer but now I see that the new dual-strain vaccines are available – should I be getting an extra booster with the new type of vaccine?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd includes newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

It will be followed by the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in mid October.

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

In France, about 6.3 million people have received a second booster dose, “or 41 percent of the eligible population,” said the Directorate General of Health (DGS) to Ouest France.

Currently only those in high risk groups are eligible for a second booster shot, including pregnant women, the elderly those with medical conditions or carers – find the full list here.

As almost half of the eligible population have already received a fourth vaccine, many are wondering whether they will be eligible for a fifth (or third booster) in order to access the new dual-strain vaccine.  

According to Virginie, a representative from HAS – France’s health authority – the organisation “no longer thinks in terms of doses for high-risk people and immunocompromised patients.”

Specifically, the HAS recommends that a new injection be given – and if possible one of the dual-strain vaccines – “regardless of the number of injections received up to now”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

However, French health authorities specified that the additional booster should “respect the minimum recommended time between two doses.”

“This depends based on your profile – for people aged 80 and over, residents of nursing homes or long-term care units (USLD) and those who are immunocompromised, the wait-time is three months between jabs. For the others, the delay is set at six months.”

For those who have already been infected by Covid-19, the HAS recommends that if you are eligible for a second (or third booster) that the additional dose “is still recommended, with a minimum delay of three months after infection.”