France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

French health workers attend a demonstration on the Bastille Day in Paris, as part of a nationwide day of actions to urge the French government to improve wages and invest in public hospitals. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 July 2020

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.


Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

Updated 11 August 2020

Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

  • 3,000 personnel face call-up amid warnings country is losing COVID-19 war

MANILA: The Philippines is considering calling up more than 3,000 military medical reservists to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes as a rising number of infections threatens to overwhelm the country’s struggling health care system. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that a list had been drawn up of of 380 doctors and nurses, as well as 3,000 reservists with medical training who can be mobilized to help COVID-19 patients.

In a televised interview, Lorenzana said talks on calling up medical reservists took place at a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last week after warnings of a shortage of medical personnel in Manila.

He said the message from medical groups that staff were overwhelmed and exhausted sent a “distress signal to the nation.”

Hospital staff also warned that the country “is waging a losing battle against COVID-19.”

“We have medical reserves. All we have to do is find out where they are now,” Lorenzana said.

“As of last week we were able to get about 380 doctors and nurses, plus about 3,000 other medical personnel, including medical aides and medical technicians,” he added.

If the plan to mobilize medical reservists is pushed through, the defense department will deploy them to help in Manila and other areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection.

The defense secretary said he is confident many of the reservists will respond once they are called to duty.

Asked if the defense department has a timetable for their deployment, Lorenzana said: “We have to process them, but first we will have to get a go signal from the Department of Budget and Management because we need money to mobilize these people. We have to pay their salary and allowances.

“I have directed the Philippines armed forces to estimate how much we money we need,” he said.

Last week Duterte ordered a strict quarantine to be reimposed in capital and surrounding provinces until Aug. 18.

He said this will give the government time to refine its pandemic strategies and offer a “breather” to exhausted front-line workers.

Under the curfew people will be restricted to essential travel and mass transport will be closed.

As of Monday, the Philippines had recorded 129,913 COVID-19 cases, with 67,673 recoveries and 2,270 deaths.