France on Tuesday celebrated its Bastille Day national holiday, but this year the usual grandiose military parade in Paris has been redesigned to celebrate heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ambulance drivers, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and medics were all honoured at the scaled-back event.
Fighter jets left plumes of blue-white-and-red smoke in the air as they took part in a flyover with the helicopters that transported COVID-19 patients.
The 2,000 special guests that were permitted at the ceremony looked on as a military band played France’s national anthem, the Marseillaise.
Ordinary French citizens weren’t able to honour front-line workers in person because the Paris ceremony was closed to the public in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
The annual firework display over the Eiffel Tower was mostly set to be viewed by citizens on television as authorities were to close off the heart of Paris where crowds would usually gather on Bastille Day, including along the embankments of the Seine.
This year’s commemoration also paid tribute to former President Charles de Gaulle, eight decades after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
Members of the military who took part in the parade and President Emmanuel Macron, along with his entourage, all kept one metre apart — the recommended social distance in France.
There was no handshaking between those involved in the ceremony, with the president giving a firm nod of the head as he walked in front of the servicemen and servicewomen.
The virus has claimed the lives of over 30,000 in France, but Macron is expected to seek to highlight France’s successes in facing the crisis.
“This ceremony will be the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation,” he said in a speech to military officials on Monday. “It will also be the symbol of our resilience.”
However, across Paris at Place de la Concorde, protesters turned out to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic.
Demonstrators criticised mask shortages and cost cuts that they say left the country’s healthcare system unable to cope.