Tired of the restrictions and eager for some fun and partying, Parisians by the thousands threw caution to the wind, defied coronavirus restrictions and took to the streets to celebrate the “Fete de la Musique” music festival, causing consternation among health officials and spreading disapproval on social networks.
Given the health crisis and the restrictions around the coronavirus and although authorities carefully have begun to lift a two-month long strict lockdown, the prospects of maintaining the Fête de la Musique, a traditional festival to celebrate the beginning of summer, didn’t come at the best moment.
But, as The Local reports, “after weeks of steady decline in key indicators of the spread of the virus, life has returned to somewhat normal and the music festival was allowed to go ahead.”
Masks and social distancing seemed a distant memory as streets in places like the Canal Saint Martin, the Vilemin Garden and the ever-popular Marais district overflowed with tight crowds of celebrants.
During an open-air DJ concert at the Villemin Garden in the 10th arrondissement, “several hundred partygoers huddled up and danced, most of them without face masks and not abiding by social distancing as had been required by France’s Ministry of Culture for the event to take place,” the paper reported.
Paris police told Le Parisien newspaper that it wasn’t asked for a permit for the five-hour concert but that it had been approved by Paris city hall.
In some areas including Les Invalides, the celebratory mood turned into clashes with police.
Dancing To Forget
In an article ironically entitled Lets Go Dance: In Paris a Music Festival To Forget The Epidemic, the French daily Le Monde dubbed the occasion “a music festival ‘corona-compatible’ never seen before in the era of social distancing.”
“A relaxation considered irresponsible by many,” the paper adds in another article analyzing what many consider a French paradox “to party but not to flock. The Ministry of Culture has been walking for weeks on this tenuous line. This June 21 — eve of the reopening of cinemas — has been a particular way to test events. On the official side, we are being exposed to the famous post-Covid government maxim: ‘Reinvent yourself’, a way to say ‘figure it out by yourselves, if it overflows, it’s not our fault.’”
The event took place as France prepares to further lift restrictions imposed to tackle the pandemic, including the compulsory return to classes for all school children to the age of 15, the reopening of cinemas — albeit with tight restrictions — and a major relaxation of the rules (while maintaining some respect for social distancing) around the return of ‘cafe society’ as bars, bistros and restaurants are permitted to reopen and fill sidewalks with their outdoor terraces and tables, restoring the quintessential Parisian flavor for the summer.
A Party That Could Become Catastrophic
“Many criticized the celebrations fearing, that the mass gatherings could lead to another surge in infections,” BBC reports. “I understand that the Fête de la Musique is liberating but couldn’t we avoid it this year?” Dr Gilbert Deray of Paris’s La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, told the British broadcaster. “It would be catastrophic if the epidemic returned.”
Photos and videos showing thousands thronging the streets, ignoring distancing rules and largely partying without face masks, although current rules prohibit public gatherings of more than 10 people, have left President Emmanuel Macron facing criticism for authorizing the festival when Covid-19 is still a very real threat.
France still requires that people maintain a one-meter distance from each other in public, masks on public transport and gatherings of 5,000 or more are prohibited until August 31.
The Fete de la Musique was established in 1982 by the French Ministry of Culture to celebrate the diversity of musical genres in popular culture. It’s now celebrated throughout France and in more than 120 countries around the world with official events and impromptu concerts in bars, cafes, squares and parks across cities to mark the start of summer.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, this year most celebrations have been canceled.
People in Paris celebrated well into the night and early into Monday morning. Seven people were arrested.