IT is impossible for virtually anyone in France right now to start any conversation about coronavirus without a long, exasperated sigh. I made the experiment a few days ago as I was returning to my lockdown habit of video calls with two of my best friends, who live in Paris and in Lyon.

One of them was telling me how suffocating the overall atmosphere is in the country: people have been experiencing covid fatigue for months now, and nerves are on edge. She witnessed a man and a woman hurling insults at each other in a cinema because he wore his mask the wrong way. It is bad enough that Parisians are notoriously ill tempered, but the general tension and gloominess makes any spat reach disproportionate heights.

But what seems to be exasperating the French more than anything is how the government seems to under-react to a worsening situation. The country has seen, since July, a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases, becoming one of the countries where the virus spreads the quickest with on average over 17000 new cases every day. In the Paris region, 40% of all intensive care unit beds are occupied by patients with Covid-19. This figure reaches a terrifying 58% in Seine-Saint-Denis, the most underprivileged department in the region.

READ MORE: Could French shorter working week stem the increase in unemployment?

It is in this context that it was announced, on October 5, that only restaurants would be allowed to stay open in the capital and “la petite ceinture”, the suburban cities on the outskirts of Paris. The only condition is that they need to follow “a strengthened health protocol” applied to all areas of maximum alert level, consisting in recording guests’ contact details for contact-tracing purposes, something that Scotland has been doing since July, and allowing a maximum of six people to share a table, instead of the previous 10.

Following the latest coronavirus restrictions in both Scotland and France made me realise how remarkably similar the concerns and difficulties are between our two countries. South of the Channel, too, the hospitality industry and consumers were left confused: where exactly is a limit between a bar and a restaurant? What about cafés and bistros? Are people allowed to meet friends for drinks at a restaurant’s terrace while the weather is not yet too autumnal, or should it be banned since bars can’t open their doors? I can think of at least a dozen places that lie in a grey zone: the kind of trendy places frequented by the cool Parisian youth, where you cannot know exactly in which category they fall. They are a bit of everything, and that is why we love them.

The government said that essentially, establishments which made the most of their revenue selling food could remain open. So far so good, especially for the capital’s numerous cafés. But very rapidly, absurdities started to pop up. For instance, there is only a curfew on the sale of alcohol (10pm like in the UK), and a client doesn’t have to order food to be allowed to order an alcoholic drink. Even if the vast majority of restaurants chose to respect the spirit of the law, many people wondered why bars had to be shut down instead of being told to respect the same protocol. That is probably the reason why many bars chose to bend the rules a bit and remain open – those that have a kitchen started selling pre-heated dishes, potentially risking a 135€ fine and an administrative closure.

READ MORE: There's no second coronavirus wave yet, the first isn't over

Then there is working from home. Even if it has been recommended by the government, the proportion of people working from home has seen a steady fall since June. Workers were encouraged to get back to their normal desks in September, and the government’s stance on working from home only got weaker. Most of the people I know and who worked from home during the lockdown are not being given this option at the moment: only 4% of French workers work from home 100% of the time, while 10% alternate between home and an office. A follower told me on social media that in their company, workers were reluctantly allowed two days of working remotely, and all employees are asked to be in the office together, at the same time, at least once a week.

Despite the explosion of the number of clusters in professional settings, working from home hasn’t been made compulsory. The obvious consequence is that it is putting unnecessary pressure on means of public transport, even if the city has been transformed by the explosion of cyclists, hence the horrifying pictures of Paris’s metro packed full of commuters during rush hour. These images really make me bless the day I decided to kiss goodbye to my routinely three hours of daily commute to and from work.

This raises the question: why not start from here? Surely, asking those who can work from home, and being clear with managers and business owners that they need to think twice before asking everybody to come back to work, would be an easy way to avoid contaminations? We have done it in the spring, why couldn’t we do it again now?

I thought that President Emmanuel Macron would announce that he finally saw sense at his first extensive interview on national TV on Wednesday night. He started out by saying what we all dreaded to hear: the current situation is worse than in March, because the virus is affecting the entirety of the territory, whereas it was mainly affecting three regions in the spring. While we were able to relieve hospitals back then by sending patients to other regions, we don’t have any spare capacity now, and health workers are exhausted.

This is why, he said, in several cities including the capital, a night curfew needs to be imposed from 9pm to 6am to deter people from socialising in the home. But, he insisted, it is out of the question to make working from home compulsory: only two or three days of remote work per week could be tolerated. “We need interactions with co-workers,” the president explained. So, as the spoof Twitter account Le Gorafi (a pun on broadsheet newspaper Le Figaro) put it, “working, commuting, and everything that makes life a misery will be able to continue normally”. The phrase “metro, boulot, dodo” never sounded so accurate.

READ MORE: We need truth and honesty ... but our world is more than raw facts

After the interview, I couldn’t find many people who were convinced this was anything other than a right-wing dystopia, especially when the president said everyone needed to reduce “useless social contacts” with friends and family, while going to work is apparently indispensable. In what world is it more harmful for mental health to see your loved ones compared to seeing your colleagues? How does the rule of six that France will be adopting make any sense, when public transport is running at full capacity?

NOBODY is seriously saying that the government didn’t need to act now. In fact, scientists are agreeing that the country waited until the very last minute to impose new restrictions. However, even if the curfew worked in overseas territories, chances are it won’t be enough on the mainland. It is feared that they will add to the general frustration and confusion, and eventually lead to less compliance with the guidance, and less trust in the government and institutions. Both are vital in times of crisis, and the country desperately lacks both.

As individual citizens, we all have a role to play to prevent the virus from running out of control. But the government has a huge responsibility too: can they seriously blame the public for catching and transmitting the virus when senior government members actively encourage people to go on holidays during the two-week autumn break? Why has the contact-tracing system been so inefficient? The buck stops with those who have the power to communicate, edict rules and enforce them. French citizens will undoubtedly remember that when, in 18 months, they go to the polls to elect our head of state.