President Emmanuel Macron will host Tuesday a Bastille Day ceremony scaled-down because of the coronavirus pandemic and also address the French in a rare television interview as fears grow over a potential second wave of infections.
For the first time since 1945, authorities have called off the annual military parade along the Champs-Elysees in Paris that marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille fortress that launched the French Revolution.
Just 2,000 soldiers — half the usual number — will gather at the Place de la Concorde.
However Macron is renewing another tradition, the July 14 president’s interview, to detail his plans for surmounting the devastating social and economic crisis wrought by the Covid-19 outbreak.
He abandoned the ritual after taking office three years ago with a pledge to shake up politics as usual, but his new government is under pressure to prove it will rise to the unprecedented challenges.
Prominent doctors urged this week that face masks be mandatory indoors, while authorities have warned the virus appears to spreading faster in several areas as people let down their guard during summer holidays.
And despite billions of euros pledged to minimise the economic damage, questions remain over how the government will foster recovery from a recession expected to destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Elysee officials said the president, who this month replaced his prime minister with a hands-on technocrat, would address the health crisis as well as several measures to revive economic growth.
– De Gaulle and ‘Resilience’ –
Macron’s live TV interview at the Elysee Palace will air at around 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), after the military review and his speech to honour the country’s armed forces as well its doctors, nurses and others fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
No crowds will be allowed anywhere near the Concorde square to avoid contagion risks, and just 2,500 guests will be spread out on viewing benches, with only a handful of tanks and other military equipment on display.
The French air force will still carry out its traditional flyovers of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, including an A400M transport plane used to evacuate Covid-19 patients from overwhelmed hospitals at the height of the crisis.
The flights were part of Operation Resilience that Macron launched in March, which also saw a military field hospital set up in hard-hit eastern regions of the country.
Representatives of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg have been invited, to thank the countries for taking in a total of 161 French patients in critical condition.
Macron’s aides have said he will also seize the occasion to honour Charles de Gaulle on the 50th anniversary of the general’s death, and the 80th of his famous call of June 18, 1940, to resist the Nazi occupation.
The ceremony will close with a rendition of the national anthem La Marseillaise and a flyover of the Patrouille de France acrobatics jets trailing blue, white and red smoke in honour of frontline health workers.
Later Tuesday, parks near the Eiffel Tower will be closed to avoid crowds for the Bastille Day fireworks in Paris, and most other cities have called off their shows altogether.
– Eye on election –
Macron’s critics have accused him of initially underestimating and then mishandling a crisis that has now caused more than 30,000 deaths in France.
He has limited himself to a few televised addresses since March, while his previous premier Edouard Philippe enjoyed a popularity boost over his perceived steady hand.
New Prime Minister Jean Castex has riled unions by saying he will move quickly to finalise a controversial pensions overhaul suspended by the crisis.
Macron pushed ahead on the signature reform despite massive strikes over the winter, which drew in part on the anti-government anger laid bare in the “yellow vest” protests of 2018 and 2019.
His interview Tuesday is expected to set his other priorities for the less than two years that remain before he comes up for re-election in 2022.