By Pierre Tran
Paris – A grim mood gripped France on the eve of the second national lock down to fight COVID 19, with the nation placed Oct. 29 on the highest security alert in the wake of two deadly incidents in the south of the country.
The police arrested an assailant who used a knife to decapitate a woman and kill two other people at a church in Nice, while police shot and killed a man wielding a handgun in the suburbs of Avignon.
President Emmanuel Macron flew down to Nice in the wake of the killings and denounced what he called a “terrorist Islamist attack.”
The head of state said the armed forces would deploy 7,000 troops to the nationwide Sentinel street patrols, up from the present 3,000, while he offered the “support of the whole nation to Catholics in France and elsewhere.”
The French constitution states the nation has a secular culture, yet the importance of Catholicism is such that France is called the oldest daughter of the church.
The bells of Notre Dame cathedral in the capital tolled at 3 pm, along with those of other churches across France, to mourn the killings inside the church in Nice.
Such was the strength of feeling, Cédric O, minister for digital affairs, called on Twitter to suspend the account of the former Malaysian prime minister, Mohamad Mahathir, who accused the French of killing “millions of people. Many were Muslims.”
A boosting of the military presence is intended to guard public places, such as churches, and patrol streets, which will be largely empty as people have been ordered to stay at home.
There will be three versions of the official document which allows people to leave home. Failure to show the document will lead to a fine. All those who leave home must wear face masks.
Even before the deadly incidents of Nice and Avignon, France was grappling with a social crisis stemming from the deadly second wave of the pandemic, with Macron Oct. 28 addressing the nation on television and announcing a lock down would start in two days’ time.
The lock down starts at midnight on Oct. 29, and will run for four weeks to Dec. 1, with the government to review the conditions. The government has sought to adapt the lock down, allowing children to go to school, but closing restaurants and cafés.
There is concern Christmas may be a sad affair, with little contact permitted among families and friends.
Companies are waiting to hear detailed instructions of the new lock down, an executive at an arms firm said. About a third of staff are working from home, and two thirds working in factories.
The concern is the pandemic will lead to a “slowdown in exports,” the executive said.
A cut in foreign sales will hit the order book, an industrial backlog which keeps production lines open.The procurement office drafts contracts for arms programs factoring in export potential, as foreign sales are used to cut domestic prices.
The French public health authorities show that by Oct. 28, 35,785 had lost their lives due to the pandemic, with 244 deaths over 24 hours, and some 1.2 million cases, a rise of 36,437 patients.
Companies had to re-organize their work conditions after the first national lock down, which came into effect March 17. Office workers were told to work from home, while factories were initially closed down, work spaces cleaned, and production sites re-organized to allow greater distance between workers and teams split into shifts.
Featured Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron visits the scene of a knife attack at the Basilica in Nice | Pool photo by Eric Gaillard/AFP via Getty Images