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Notre Dame repair is metaphor for France pulling together, says Macron

Angelique Chrisafisin Paris
·4-min read

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has used the reconstruction of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral as a metaphor for the country pulling together as France reached the symbolic mark of 100,000 deaths from coronavirus.

Macron toured the upper levels of the Notre Dame site in a hard hat and overalls on the second anniversary of the fire that ripped through the roof of the Gothic masterpiece in 2019.

Workers talked to the French president, who is under pressure as locked-down France faces a third wave of the pandemic with many hospitals at saturation point, of their efforts to secure and steady the site, despite difficulties due to lead levels and Covid restrictions.

Macron told journalists from Le Parisien that the damaged cathedral, which is expected to partially reopen in 2024, was “a metaphor for what a lot of people are feeling and what we’re living”.

He said: “Our medical staff have been extraordinarily heroic, like the firefighters were during the fire. These events show the French people’s capacity to unite … when the worst happens.”

He said the pandemic had shown how certainties can be knocked off course but the pandemic was a “hard crisis”, causing pain and exhaustion.

Workers plaster stonework at the reconstruction site of Notre Dame, which was damaged in a fire two years ago.
Workers plaster stonework at the reconstruction site of Notre Dame, which was damaged in a fire two years ago. Photograph: Reuters

On Thursday, relatives of many of those who have died from Covid-19 pressed the government for an official memorial for the dead, with some complaining that their loved ones had died “like plague victims”, with families unable to mourn properly.

France, with a population of 67 million, will be the eighth country in the world to reach the grim mark of 100,000 official deaths, and the third in Europe after the UK and Italy. In recent days, French health authorities have been reporting approximately 300 new daily Covid deaths. Experts think the real figure could be higher than 100,000 when deaths at home are taken into account.

The government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, said in his latest briefing on Wednesday the time would come to honour the dead but the country was now engaged in facing “difficult days” as it fights another rapid rise in confirmed cases.

“There will be an homage for sure, a national mourning for the victims of Covid-19,” Attal said. “That time will come … Today, we’re throwing all our forces in the battle against the epidemic.”

Macron is under growing political pressure after declaring last March that France was at “war” with the virus and is now accused by political opponents for not locking down fast enough this spring. Regional elections expected in June are likely to present a significant logistical challenge. One year before the 2022 French presidential election, polls are showing the far-right Marine Le Pen once again making it to the second round run-off against Macron.

France was placed in a third, partial lockdown at the beginning of April, as new infections were rising and hospitals struggling to find beds for patients. The total number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in France rose past 5,900 this week. Schools and most non-essential shops have closed, and a ban is in place on most domestic travel.

Related: Notre Dame fire: Macron pledges to rebuild devastated Paris cathedral

An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since mid-December, and all France’s restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.

Macron will gather ministers at the Élysée palace on Thursday night to discuss a roadmap for a future progressive opening up of restaurant terraces, cultural sites and other services. But with the current rise in cases, the initial suggested start date of loosening restrictions in mid-May could be pushed back. Macron was accompanied at Notre Dame by the culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, on her first official outing since being hospitalised for Covid-19.

French authorities hope that 20 million people, about 38% of the adult population, will have received at least one shot of a vaccine by mid-May – the current figure stands at just over 11 million people.

According to Associated Press, France is the country that has reported the largest number of confirmed infections in Europe at more than 5.1m.