Paris becomes a ghost town as coronavirus cases rise

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - PARIS: After French President Emmanuel Macron tightened measures aimed at combating the coronavirus and imposed restrictions on the movement of the population, Paris has become a ghost town.

The usual groups of pedestrians, fearing the large fines they might face, are nowhere to be seen. Only the cars of some professionals, the police, and diplomats are seen in the streets. As for public transport, the situation is similar. Buses are almost empty with the exception of a small number of passengers, many of whom are wearing masks.

Arab News wanted to know how Arab diplomatic missions were functioning under such unusual circumstances and was able to interview three Arab ambassadors: The representative of the Arab League, Ambassador Boutros Assaker, the Ambassador of Egypt Ehab Badawi, and the Ambassador of the UAE Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed.

“The Arab League’s offices are closed in accordance with the recommendations of the French president but we still have the change-over of employees to control. As for me, I am working from home,” Assaker said.

Badawi said that his embassy is closed temporarily and that everyone is working from home. Regarding Egyptians wishing to return home, he told us that there would be a final flight leaving on Wednesday. After that, all Egyptian airports will be closed from Thursday until March 31.

As for French nationals in Egypt wishing to return home, there are two elements to consider: The flight they will take back home and the authorization they need from the authorities on-site in order to leave.

Concerning the authorization, all foreigners are allowed to go back to their countries but only Egyptians with a French residence card will be able to return to France. The French residence card is equivalent to French nationality regarding the holder’s return to France; those with only a Schengen visa will not, however, be allowed into France. “We have a final flight expected to arrive tomorrow from Egypt,” said Badawi, “and that flight will be the last one from France to Egypt.”

According to Badawi, there are 250,000 registered Egyptians working in France but there is also an unknown number of unregistered Egyptians. “We have asked Egypt Air to change the aircraft because there are a lot of Egyptian students who want to go home. We had an aircraft of 145 seats for which Egypt Air substituted a 300-seat aircraft to repatriate the maximum number of Egyptian nationals.”

“The embassy was closed in line with the laws and measures taken by our host country,” UAE Ambassador Al-Ahmed told Arab News. “Two weeks ago, we reduced our work schedule, while also adopting a working- from-home policy. After the latest measures, however, we decided to close, though remaining available to assist any Emirati national facing an emergency. Consular activity stopped a week earlier because the French side halted its activities and people just stopped coming.”

“The growing concern due to the virus certainly made us advise our citizens to return home to the UAE. Up to now, there are still flights but this also depends on the country where the airline companies are located. 

“I can confirm that the majority of Emirati citizens who were in France have gone back home. We have a small number of sick Emiratis in French hospitals who, for health reasons, are unable to return. Emirati students enrolled in French universities went home because the universities closed and the courses are now being delivered online. 

“As for me, I am working from home and I hold video conferences with other diplomats as we search for ways to solve the problems between our nationals and the airline companies,” Al-Ahmed said.

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