To honor the frontline workers who have been risking their lives for months during the coronavirus pandemic, France celebrated Bastille Day by giving them “historic” pay raises. The country hosted scaled-down celebrations honoring health care workers during the national holiday on Tuesday as its partial lockdown continued.
While health care workers around the world have been praised as heroes during the pandemic, many have demanded more than just nightly clapping. Workers in France sought pay raises, staff increases and increased funding for hospitals in their negotiations.
On Monday, the French government granted health care workers 8 billion euros, or about $9.1 billion, in pay raises. The decision followed seven weeks of negotiations with trade unions, BBC News reports.
Prime Minister Jean Castex hailed the agreement as a “historic moment” for France’s healthcare system.
“This effort is first of all a recognition for those who, applauded every evening by our fellow citizens, have been on the front line in the fight against this unprecedented epidemic,” Castex tweeted. “Everyone knows their sense of duty and their selflessness.”
Laura Rezé, a sterilization technician at Hôpital Ambroise Paré, a public hospital in Boulogne, said she will see her wages increase by about 183 euros, or about $208, a month.
“It doesn’t make a huge overall difference, but it’s better than nothing,” she told CBS News on Tuesday. “It feels good to somewhat feel our work is being recognized.”
“This is definitely progress. We’ve been striking and asking for our demands to be met way before COVID-19 started,” she added. “I just wish it didn’t take a pandemic for us to be seen and heard.”
Officials canceled the traditional Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris due to the pandemic. In its place, the city hosted a military parade on the Place de la Concorde honoring doctors, nurses and other hospital workers.
The parade featured a traditional show by the French Air Force Aerobatic Team. According to a government press release, several thousand invited audience members, including the families of health workers who died during the pandemic, watched the events from socially-distanced seating.
Officials from four nations that took in French patients — Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland — were also invited to watch.
President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday his desire to make wearing a face mask mandatory in enclosed public spaces. He said new rules will be discussed in the next few weeks, amid fears of a second wave of the virus. Currently, masks are required on public transportation but not in enclosed public spaces.
In a blog post about Bastille Day, Macron said that he wanted to pay a “vibrant tribute” to the health care professionals in all sectors who have enabled public, social and economic life to continue. He praised their dedication, tenacity, courage and solidarity.
After the ceremony, thousands of health care workers and yellow vest activists protested in Place de la Bastille. They demanded better contracts and increased public funding for health care, but were met with tear gas by police.
France has over 209,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 30,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University. But the country has mostly recovered, seeing a significant decline in daily cases since its peak in mid-April.