March 18, 2020: first day of confinement, immersed in a cloistered France

Our anniversary event “80 years of Parisian, 80 headlines”

The very first issue of Le Parisien appeared on August 22, 1944, in the midst of the liberation of Paris. To celebrate this anniversary, we have selected 80 historical or emblematic “headlines” of their time. Sport, news items, conquest of space, presidential elections, disappearances of stars… They tell the story of eight decades of current events. We have chosen to tell you behind the scenes. A series to discover until the end of the year.

Time has lost its mind. Days, minutes, seconds no longer mean anything. Covid is a shift into another world, unknown, terrorizing, without reference. Like the feeling that the clock has lost its hands. Counting the dead on TV and applause from caregivers at dinner will be the new tick-tock of our former lives.

The front page of our newspaper, this March 18, 2020, recounts this change of era: “Confinement, the first day” It describes the “upset” daily life of the French people who have been cloistered since the day before. A large white square is planted on page 5. Dotted lines, check boxes, signature. It’s a free pass. A travel certificate for readers that everyone will then fill out in pencil. Without it, no exit, no life.

Le Parisien, which can continue to be sold on newsstands throughout the pandemic, makes the promise: “We will publish it every day, for as long as necessary. » Word kept.

“We have to confront people with reality,” warned Dr. Pialoux

Like everyone else, we didn’t see the blow go away. He knocked out the editorial staff a few days earlier, on March 12. On the other end of the line, two infectious diseases experts, who were previously confident, assure us that they were wrong about the nature of the virus. We thought it was a good flu, but it is not. “Let’s be clear, we must prepare for the worst,” warns Doctor Pialoux. “We must confine the country,” adds Professor Caumes. To confine ? Like in China? Like in science fiction blockbusters?

These revelations give rise to a meeting in the company department, where health news is discussed. What if the experts were wrong, what if readers were panicked for nothing? Pialoux had warned: “We have to confront people with reality. ” Here we are. On the site, the article is published: “It’s much more serious than expected. »

In the evening, the head of state announced the closure of schools. Even when shells rained down on the Somme in 1917, there was class. We must face the facts. With my colleague, responsible like me for health, we decided to stop noting each case and death by hand.

Since February 13, we have been writing the daily report on a sheet, taped to our desk. Excerpts. January 24: man, 48 years old, hospitalized in Bordeaux, confirmed case; February 25: Frenchman, 64 years old, returned from Lombardy, doing well; February 26: man, 60 years old, first French patient to die; March 12: 2,876 cases. Impossible to hold now. There are too many deaths. Person

The entire editorial team is in battle order

Since February 13, we have been writing the daily report on a sheet, taped to our desk. Excerpts. January 24: man, 48 years old, hospitalized in Bordeaux, confirmed case; February 25: Frenchman, 64 years old, returned from Lombardy, doing well; February 26: man, 60 years old, first French patient to die; March 12: 2,876 cases. Impossible to hold now. There are too many deaths. Nobody imagined that a year later there would be 100,000.

Covid is a crazy beast that consumes bodies, lives, families. On March 17, the country went into lockdown. Full fridges, locked door, great silence. In the hospital, too, there is not a sound. The surge of dying people requires extreme concentration. In the Grand-Est, especially, the epidemic is soaring.

The old people are taken away in a few hours, the services are overflowing, the transfers begin. “I beg you, tell people to stay at home,” implores, during a heartbreaking exchange, Jean Rottner, president of the region and emergency doctor in Nancy. Doctors aren’t usually afraid.

The entire editorial team is in battle order. For the first time, the newspaper is produced remotely. The pages are written from one home to another. Scattered, hyperproductive hive, with scattered schedules. Interviews at 11 p.m., push at 4 a.m., double page spread in one morning. We told you: time has gone out of control. Weeks at the pace of a marathon of interviews, stories, surveys, newsletters.

Do not reduce victims to numbers

From March 13, we will make 62 front pages in a row on the epidemic. More than 210 in one year and thousands of articles on the Web: “The faces of tragedy” (March 28), “Thank you caregivers” (March 25), “Why the mask is essential”, “ The puzzle of deconfinement.”

We even publish a guide to making your mask. We must explain, clarify, say what science knows or does not know: identity of the enemy, treatment, vaccines. Moving forward, despite uncertainty. Putting chaos into words is the only way to tame it. Above all, do not reduce victims to numbers.

Who are the sick, the dying, the resurrected, the isolated, the depressed? For months, even years, we worked hard to give them a face. In one of the intensive care units, we meet René, 63 years old, twelve days in a coma, back on earth. “They made me live!” » Julie, 16 years old, beautiful with her brown curls and her red lips, was not so lucky. His lungs gave out.

What remains is this shot of her alive, freezing a sunny laugh. That of Alexis and Thérèse, too, united for fifty years, side by side in the photo. They bowed out, together, struck by the virus.

There are those who leave and those who stay. It’s almost as hard. Among them, Sabrina, 44 years old, had her father and brother amputated twenty-four days apart. The hospital forbids him from seeing the first, and presents him with the second, in a body bag. “Who’s in the coffin?” », she will ask herself, inconsolable.

At the time, fathers, sisters and sons left without paying tribute, for fear of post-mortem transmission. False belief, stolen mourning. Nathalie, 48, accuses herself of having infected and killed her husband. She begs for forgiveness at his grave. Hopefully he hears it. Jamshaid, 35, is at a loss for words when his 4-year-old granddaughter asks him “where has mom gone?” » Confinement also explodes the morale of teenagers. Isolation, feeling of being nothing.

Faces and names forever written in our pages

At the psychiatric hospital, they dress them in paper pajamas to prevent them from hanging themselves. We remember this exchange between Marvin, 16, and his mother. “Explain Marvin, what makes you sad?” » “I can’t say, mom, there’s this big void around me. » In this suffering also emerge moments of humanity, which we must know how to seize.

VIDEO. Coronavirus: Paulette, 98, reunites with her daughter after more than a month of confinement

Like the laughter of Paulette, 98 years old, overjoyed at the idea of ​​seeing her daughter again, mid-April 2020, after more than a month of separation. His retirement home in Yvelines has just authorized visits, behind the glass on the ground floor. “Look mom, we can touch each other like this,” the girl said.

The old lady’s trembling fingers apply to his. Suspended moments. Life never disarms. Covid will not take that away from us. These faces and their names are forever inscribed in our pages.

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