France will close all schools and universities on Monday in preparation for a surge in coronavirus infections. But in Nice, people seem to have greeted the news with a collective shrug.
There are 2,800 coronavirus cases in France. And residents are being careful. When I instinctively reached out to shake a friend’s hand, he politely stepped back and waved me off. No one wants to get infected.
(Note: This is an adaptation of my podcast. Listen to the full episode here.)
But talk to people about the reaction to coronavirus — especially the U.S. travel ban — and you’ll get a lot of eye-rolls. This concept of a “foreign” virus is ridiculed in France. And America’s decision to ban foreigners, but not U.S. citizens, from traveling to the States, is scoffed at by locals.
Coronavirus infections in Nice: Feels like the end of the world
Still, in the context of current events, it kind of feels like the end of the world.
The U.S. stock market is about to have its worst week ever. The travel industry is paralyzed by cancellations. We’re just a half-hour drive from the Italian border, which is locked down. There are reports of hospitals overflowing with coronavirus patients in Italy.
Is this really the apocalypse?
I’ve received a lot of questions about that. The travel industry is getting slammed. Airlines, cruise lines and hotels continue to loosen their refund rules almost by the minute. I couldn’t keep up all of them for a USA Today column on the topic. That story posted online this morning, by the way.
This is worse than 9/11, worse than anything I’ve ever seen.
But it’s not the end of the world. At some point in the near future, the virus will stop spreading. And on the day that happens, you can bet that airlines will raise fares. Hotels will tighten their refund requirements again. And cruise lines will go back to their old, restrictive policies.
France travel advice: Is it time to book?
I have a little irreverent advice, inspired by my French friends. As a smart traveler, you have to be a step ahead of the madness. Know that this will blow over. If you want to take a discounted cruise, and you see an attractive price, book now. Same thing for airfares or hotel rooms. Yeah, it’s a little risky, but think of the rewards — once-in-a-lifetime bargains!
I kind of like the French approach to coronavirus. It’s sensible and pragmatic. Epidemics and world wars have shaped public sentiment. They’ve seen it all here.
Take precautions, but don’t overreact. Here in Nice, friends are still getting together but they’re keeping a safe distance — no kissing. The stores are still open. And the restaurants. What kind of life is it without good food?
When you think of the end of the world, you imagine it happening in a dystopian future-scape like downtown Atlanta. You don’t think of Nice.
Nice is tidy and — well, nice.
Take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais on an afternoon, and you can see people sunbathing along the Mediterranean. They’re enjoying the warm spring weather and sunshine, seemingly without a care in the world.
But a storm is coming. And everyone here knows it.