‘It’s difficult to be away from family at this time’

FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron has extended pandemic lockdown measures until, May 11, when schools, crèches and other public spaces may be allowed to reopen.
In a national address broadcast on Monday night, President Macron said that by that date the State must be able to provide masks to all the French and a screening test for ‘all those with symptoms’ which must be quarantined. Borders with non-EU countries remain closed.
More than 15,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus in France making it the fourth most affected country behind the United States, Italy and Spain.
Letterkenny man Pádraig McGeehan and his wife Catherine has called France home for the past seven years. They are based near a small town called Prades, just in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is about 45 minutes from Spain and quite near Andorra. Their biggest nearby town is Perpignan which has a nightly curfew from 8pm to 6am.
They had been due back home in Donegal on holiday last week.
“It is a difficult time to be away from family, especially as we have our first grandchild,” Pádraig explains.
The couple run a holiday letting business catering mainly to Spanish customers who like to escape north for a break. Their business is closed up and they don’t expect a resumption before mid June at the earliest.
They have both volunteered to help out and registered on a national state database while they have also offered their five rental apartments, free of charge, for use in self isolation for medical staff or for someone who has no where to isolate.
Before relocating to France, Pádraig used to own a pub near Muff – the Ture Inn – while Catherine, who is originally from Moville, was a GP working in Strabane.
“There is a total lockdown here. Very little is open. We have not moved the car in more than four weeks and our only foray is an evening walk within 1 kilometre of the house. For this you need a certificate stating the reason and the time. You are allowed out for max one hour. Enforcement is strict and fines are common,” he said.
“President Macron addressed the nation last night and everyone was expecting the lockdown to continue into May. After that it looks like there will be a gradual easement, maybe less affected areas first or by groups of less at risk individuals. Generally compliance with the lockdown is good,” he added.
Luckily, there have been very few cases in the immediate area in which they live but Perpignan, about 45 km away, has fared less well with 19 deaths.
“Our region, Occatanie, has been relatively spared and medical facilities have coped well. Generally, the level of facilities here are way above what we would expect at home. Our small town has a clinic/hospital with 59 hospital beds and 14 surgical beds, remarkable as it has a population of only 6,000. To date it has not been used for Covid as the main hospital in Perpignan has not reached capacity,” he said.
Occatanie has a similar population to the island of Ireland, about 5.9 million. It has been spared the terrible devastation in the rest of France. There have been 195 hospital deaths in total and things seem to be stabilizing. The region has been taking patients from other badly affected areas of France.
South of the border, however Catalonia in Northern Spain (45 minutes away) has been devastated by the virus. From a population of 7.5 million it has had over 3,000 deaths. It is in the top two of the worst affected areas in the world. It has wrecked havoc in Barcelona and Girona.
“It is extremely hard to figure out the difference between north and south of the border considering that they are so closely linked,” he said.

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