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Panic-buying grips Paris as coronavirus lockdown kicks in

A long, slow line of people waiting to get into a Paris grocery store on March 17, 2020, as lock-down kicks in
A long, slow line of people waiting to get into a Paris grocery store on March 17, 2020, as lock-down kicks in © RFI/Alison Hird

France is on lockdown from midday Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. However, armed with an attestation – a kind of permission slip - people will still be allowed to go out to buy food. Even still, panic-buying has already set in.

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“There’s nothing on the shelves,” mutters 60-something Rogerio Graçal on his way out of a supermarket in Paris’ 17th district. “No pasta, no meat, no milk, no bread, nothing I was looking for.”  He brandishes photos of empty shelves he took on his smartphone.

Inside the supermarket, Thérèse, 74, places four bottles of mineral water into her caddy. “My freezer at home is fairly full so I just need water as I have a kidney problem.”

'People are acting like it’s wartime' - Thérèse, a Parisian living in the 17th district
'People are acting like it’s wartime' - Thérèse, a Parisian living in the 17th district © RFI/Alison Hird

She’s shocked by the way some people are stacking up their trolleys. “People are behaving disgracefully as if it’s a war situation, it isn’t. The supermarket should limit how many packs of pasta and dry foods people can take.”

But there are no limits. One trolley is piled high with long-life bread and brioche, even though bakeries will remain open even after lockdown.

“What’s more people won’t even be able to eat all this food before the sell-by date and will end up throwing it away.” 

Empty bread shelves in a grocery shop in Paris' 17th district
Empty bread shelves in a grocery shop in Paris' 17th district © RFI/Alison Hird

Price hikes

Supermarkets, like all other shops, are limiting the numbers of customers,  letting people in one by one, after they’ve applied sanitiser gel.

Gustavio shuffles along in the queue, holding a carton of orange juice.

He’s come from another supermarket up the road and is looking for bananas.

“They’re usually €1.80 a kilo but they  were selling them at €2.50.  I’m worried prices are going to go up.” 

He’ll be able to carry on looking for cheap food, even after midday, providing he has an attestation but says he’s no idea what that means.

“Where do I get one?“ he asks bemused.  “And what happens if I don’t?”

Slow to react

Macron’s statement in his Monday evening televised speech that “we are at war” may not have helped the ambient stress.

“He should have said that weeks ago,” rages Rogerio, “when the coronavirus broke out in China. 

“France should have reacted straight away, privileging public health and not the stock markets. We don’t give a monkeys about stocks and shares!”

A 74-year old friend of his is in hospital with the virus. “I don’t know if I’ll see him again, the hospitals are overrun.”

Sacha, a thirty-year old academic pushing a trolley of mainly organic dry foods, also feels the panic could have been avoided.

“Macron adopted a martial tone on TV, but it’s all come too late. If you’re prepared, and we’ve known about viruses similar to this for a decade, then it’s manageable.”

Lock-down

People’s movements will be limited from this afternoon and they’re adapting as far as they can. “I’m used to working from home,” says Sacha, “so it won’t make much difference for me.”

Thérèse is more concerned. “No parks to walk in! That’s going to be hard, there’s only so much telly you can watch. I ‘ll just have to find a public bench to sit on!”

Escaping Paris

Others opted to get out of the city before lockdown, believing they’ll have more freedom in the countryside.

Mei, a teacher and mother of two, left Paris on Monday night for their holiday home in Burgundy.  The journey by car took them four hours rather than the usual two.

“We heard it was going to be a total lockdown in Paris so we rushed to get out earlier than we’d planned,” she told RFI in an email. “It’s better being isolated in the countryside, better for our little boy, our animals and are sanity, than all of us being on top of each other in our tiny Paris appartment.”

But while some supermarket shelves in Paris are emptying, the situation is even more challenging in rural areas.

“There is no food in the grocery store, literally none, “ Mei says. “We’re being creative about meals for the next few days until they restock. Hopefully. This is going to be a challenging time.”

 

 

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