She was acting on orders from France’s education minister, even though the boy was showing no symptoms of illness and was not on vacation in a coronavirus-affected region. The outbreak in northern Italy scared the entire French government.
From the Grand Canal to the Eiffel Tower, the once-ubiquitous Chinese tour groups have suddenly disappeared. Images of Italy are ubiquitous on European television and everyone holds their collective breath. Euro Disney, 25 miles from downtown Paris, is still open, although the on-sale date for the new “Onward” souvenir brooch, set for February 29, has been pushed back indefinitely. Pins are made in China.
But the Louvre closed and the French government called for all gatherings of more than 5,000 people to be suspended, torpedoing the major book fair Livre Paris from March 20-23.
“Lots of cancellations, big events canceled here and there too,” Inès Vounatsos, general manager of the 9Confidential hotel in Paris’ trendy Marais district, told me. “People are starting to panic here.”
The main difference with the United States is that no leader in Europe is downplaying or denying the coronavirus and the terrible challenge to public health. There’s no one here like President Donald Trump, who can’t decide whether the global outbreak is a trivial problem — ‘like a miracle it will go away,’ he said Thursday — or something. used by Democrats to criticize his response (“this is their new hoax,” he said at a rally on Friday).
French President Emmanuel Macron paid a sudden visit to La Pitié Sâlpetrière hospital, where France’s first coronavirus patient died on Tuesday. “We are facing a crisis, an epidemic which is coming,” Macon said darkly, accompanied by the Minister of Health Olivier Véran. “We know we are only at the beginning.”
This is the second of two deaths in France. While the cause of the first – an 80-year-old Chinese tourist – seemed clear, the second had no known connection to an affected region. So far, according to Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche, 100 cases have been recorded in France, with 86 people still hospitalized, including nine in critical condition. Twelve patients were discharged as cured.
The coronavirus has changed some longstanding practices and customs. The season of major fashion shows from Milan to Paris via London is in full swing. This year, the airy kiss and firm handshake has been replaced as a greeting with a friendly upper arm grip and squeeze, replacing any skin-to-skin contact. Several major record companies, including the renowned Agnès B, have completely canceled their Parisian parades.
In Milan, Giorgio Armani held his main show in an empty house, inviting guests to watch it online. On a beautiful sunny day in Paris, the long queues that usually snaked through the square waiting to enter the Musée d’Orsay were gone.
The outbreak is approaching pandemic proportions without a coordinated global response. During the last major flu pandemic of 1918-1919, as many as 500 million people were infected worldwide and 10 million died as the disease spread with little cooperative effort to contain it. Today, in theory, the world is better prepared. But as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, once said, “It’s like a chain – one weak link and everything crumbles.”
Unfortunately, the main players in the United States’ efforts to control the coronavirus are Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical lobbyist.
Fauci, like many of his European counterparts, knows what he’s doing – like France’s health minister Véran, who is a trained doctor with a graduate degree in health management.
Trump disbanded the entire White House pandemic response team more than a year ago, firing Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, the National Security Council’s global health security chief, and Tom Bossert , the homeland security adviser who had called for a bio-pandemic defense strategy.
It turns out that Italy, the hardest hit nation in Europe so far, has its own problems of conflicting bureaucracy to manage its crisis. The Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, a student in Mediterranean history, has no medical training, but is simply a leftist member of the ruling coalition.
At the same time, as Donald Trump travels to North Carolina on Monday evening for a political meeting, the Elysee Palace announced that President Macron was canceling all travel to “focus on crisis management”.
It may be difficult, if not impossible, to reconstitute at short notice all the expertise or to establish a plan at the level of those currently implemented in certain places in Europe, particularly in France. But at a minimum, allowing a real specialist and an authorized team to work as needed at the heart of this effort would be a good start.