No.19 ~ Somerville ~ Dec. 6, 2020

The Ups and Downs of Lockdowns

Yesterday’s rainy 24-hour “nor’easter” didn’t cooperate for a wintry photo op this morning. This shot is from October 30, when the leaves were still on the trees. The Somerville Community Path is just a few steps away from our place.

In nearby Davis Square, there are two “T” stations, where you can go down to hop on the underground train. One of them has an outside covered area preferred by busking musicians for its power-free acoustics that provide echo and amplification. On a recent afternoon a guy was standing under the low roof, his back to the brick wall, playing Christmas tunes on a tenor sax. When I walked by, he was striding through “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”  

In Somerville, and across Greater Boston, reality is setting in for restaurateurs as the season for outside dining draws to a close. Winter will hardly be a wonderland for them. 

And the French, emerging from their second lockdown, are discovering that though they may be able to walk in their winter wonderland, the government does not want them to ski in it. 

So goes one part of France’s “deconfinement calendar,” announced during the past two weeks. While the French are easing out of a month-long full lockdown, lifts in ski areas are to remain closed, at least until January 20. Curiously, the new protocol says that ski resorts can otherwise remain open, even though restaurants are on schedule to remain closed until January 20 as well. 

The Swiss, with fewer Covid-19 cases, are keeping their ski areas open for the holidays, so the French government is threatening to quarantine French skiers for seven days when they re-enter France from Switzerland. It’ll be interesting to see how this is enforced. French ski areas, meanwhile, stand to lose a quarter of their usual annual revenue with the loss of holiday business. 

Non-essential shops in France were allowed to re-open on November 28, but they have to close at 9 pm, and shoppers will still have to carry an attestation, or permission form, explaining why they are outside. In addition, the lockdown limit of one kilometer for travel is expanded to 20 km, with a maximum outdoor exercise period of three hours a day. Schools can now offer extracurricular activities, if they are outside. Religious activities can resume, but limited to 30 people. 

This latest lockdown produced dramatic results in controlling transmission of the virus, even though less than a majority of the French give President Emmanuel Macron’s government good ratings for performance. At the beginning of November, when lockdown started, France was tallying 60,000 cases per 24 hours. Now Macron has set a maximum of 5,000 new cases a day, along with other indicators, as the limit to keep re-opening on schedule. 

If the new case toll stays below that limit, on December 15 the French will be able to toss their attestations and travel as they wish. But there will still be restrictions. 

Large public gatherings will not be permitted (even though this has not stopped the French from protesting in the streets), and I just read that family gatherings should be kept to six adults. Except for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, the 9 pm to 7 am curfew continues. 

Restaurants and cafés will suffer closure until January 20, and even then will be allowed to re-open only if goals to control the virus continue to be met. If there’s a go-ahead, that will be the end to the curfew as well, and signal a gradual return to full-time in-person teaching at high schools and universities. 

Travel to France from outside Europe is still limited to essential trips. All indications are that France will follow European Union guidelines for international travel. 

Here in Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh made thinly veiled threats of a lockdown as he answered questions on a radio talk show Friday. The positivity test rate in the state has been steadily ticking up since we arrived in mid-October.

Until most of us are vaccinated, lockdowns appear to be the only way to keep hospitals from overflowing. That’s the upside. The downside is that lockdowns are like a land of make believe, where the virus problem gets temporarily fixed, at a high cost of economic collateral damage. Word is that in Paris 30 percent of small independent shops are closed for good. Research out of Harvard says that 37% of small businesses in Massachusetts are not open. 

We can look forward to January 20, the day when France — hopefully — will be fully released from lockdown, and the U.S. will be released from the Trump administration.

Yesterday, an American died from Covid-19 every 40 seconds. Those families have a right to have lost their patience. The rest of us can help by keeping ours. We need to be as patient as the falling snow.
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