WHEN the lockdown started, I couldn’t wait for the summer to happen: at last, the possibility to meet people outdoors, sit at one of the thousands of Parisian terrasses that have been granted permission to be extended on the streets of the capital, and travel around the country.

The lockdown effectively ended in mid-June, trains and public transport are running at full capacity, and the government encouraged us to holiday in France this year to support our world-renowned tourism industry.

The message was clear: enjoy the summer, but don’t let the joy of reuniting with friends and family and having some well deserved time off erase the fact that we are still living through the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives in France. With fewer contaminations, fewer patients in hospital and fewer casualties, the situation improved dramatically compared to March, April and May, allowing the reopening of pretty much everything from bars to hairdressers, shopping centres and cinemas. But we should be wary of an increase in the virus’s circulation in the country, which could, if we are too reckless, turn into a second wave later this year.

Despite what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week as he expressed concerns about rising coronavirus cases on the continent, what we are seeing in France is not a second wave, French health secretary Olivier Véran insisted. However, that doesn’t mean the first wave is over.

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The latest figures are a cause for concern. According to data released by Santé Publique France, July has seen a rise in infections, especially among young people who are often asymptomatic or showing mild symptoms. In Britanny, people aged between 18 to 25 represent 45% of new cases. Moreover, the R number is also above one in 10 regions.

What is especially worrying is that not only the most densely populated regions are experiencing this, but also areas which were not the most violently hit by the pandemic back in April, such as Britanny and Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the south-west of the country.

This increase is not caused by the higher number of coronavirus tests that are performed. The rise in new cases is significantly higher than the rise of new tests. This proves we are seeing a resumption of the pandemic.

According to Jean-François Delfraissy, the chief scientific adviser, it seems French people have abandoned social distancing measures altogether. He singled out young people among whom, he argued, he noticed a “relaxation” of rules, perhaps due to the fact that we think coronavirus can’t harm us. This is, of course, a major issue. Young people can also suffer from severe forms of the illness, take a long time to recover, and contaminate parents, grandparents and vulnerable loved ones in general.

Although Delfraissy is right to sound the alarm with young people, who are currently travelling a lot in the country thanks to the summer holidays, I would not specifically single them out. From what I have seen, the relaxation is general. Every single one of the people of my age I know has had to tell their parents off at one point over the past few months for being too careless, in particular those who have family in places that haven’t experienced the sheer brutality of the pandemic at the same scale as in the Paris region and the east of France.

I will never forget hearing the sound of patients being ambulanced to the nearest hospital all day and all night for weeks, as more close friends, relatives and acquaintances were lying in bed sick with the virus. But as I visited relatives in the centre and the south of the country in June, one thing that hit me was that people there had a completely different experience of the lockdown and its aftermath.

Compared with the capital and its suburbs, where wearing a face covering became second nature for the vast majority of people even before it became compulsory in shops and indoor spaces in late July, attitudes were much more casual. In private gatherings, even in the Paris region, social distancing is too often non-existent. I went to a house-warming party where guests asked if they could faire la bise – kiss people on both cheeks – as if it was an option. If you refuse, you will risk being called paranoid and a killjoy, and will be scowled at for the rest of the evening.

I honestly don’t mind it though. I have never been fond of touching people’s face with my own face to greet them, and la bise is a complex social ritual. As comedian Paul Taylor hilariously explains, you never know how many you should do and which cheek you should kiss first. So really, I am not going to miss the many awkward situations where I ended up, on multiple occasions, practically kissing a stranger on the mouth.

We are walking on a tightrope here. We are at that point where we could either get our act together and see off a second wave, or keep living our best lives and have the risk of more lockdowns, more deaths and more suffering hanging over our heads as we approach the autumn and winter months.

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We can criticise the government and authorities for not doing enough. After all, France’s contact-tracing system could be improved, there should be more testing, and the pandemic was horrific in hospitals and care homes, as it was in Scotland. However, the main difference with Scotland is that France is not pursuing a zero-Covid strategy, which would be very difficult to implement indeed because we are quite reluctant to decentralise powers in general, including to fight against the virus. Local authorities and mayors have an extremely limited scope for action as far as health is concerned. The only variations are between towns and cities that decided to make wearing masks compulsory in some outdoor spaces.

In Orléans, for example, the mayor has decided to impose masks on the banks of the Loire river and in outdoor markets. The same decision has been taken in tourist hotspots in Britanny and Normandy, while several cities up and down the Atlantic coast took the initiative to close beaches at night to prevent gathering, following 41 new coronavirus cases in Quiberon (Britanny) after late-night beach parties.

THE lesson that Scotland could learn from France is to avoid complacency at all costs. The strict social distancing rules, in particular in pubs and restaurants, seem to be working, and they are infinitely stricter in Scotland than in France, where nobody is required to give their contact details or have their temperature taken.

I can understand why Scots may feel a sense of security now: there are only a handful of new cases every day and most days in July have seen no deaths linked to coronavirus. While this is obviously very good news, there is a danger in relying too much on this progress and acting as if the virus is a distant nightmare. It might be the case now in Scotland, but given any opportunity, the situation can worsen rapidly, and the virus can spiral out of control. Scotland, too, experienced some very traumatic months, with families and communities mourning the loss of beloved members, and I am sure nobody wants to see this again.

It is mentally exhausting to worry all the time about our own health and the well-being of our loved ones. It is tempting to just give that one friend a hug, or invite an extra household to an apéro, thinking it would really be bad luck to catch coronavirus this summer.

The risk is low, but it is not zero. However, let’s remember there is a fine line between taking precautions to live as safely as possible, and letting anxiety take hold of us. Fear and judgement is not going to help anyone.