Parade, flyovers, masks: France's scaled-down celebrations on Bastille Day

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a subdued Bastille Day ceremony on Tuesday to honour the country's medical workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, before outlining his response to the country's most severe health and economic crisis since World War II.

Scaled-down celebrations!

While jets performed their traditional flyovers over the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, authorities called off the annual military parade that marks the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille prison that launched the French Revolution.

Instead, Macron presided a scaled-down gathering of just 2,000 soldiers -- half the usual number -- at the Place de la Concorde, where several dozen doctors, nurses and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic were given pride of place.


'Masked' Macron

Macron personally thanked several of them as a light rain began to fall, a day after his government agreed an eight billion euro ($8.5 billion) package of pay hikes for nurses and careworkers.

He then donned a face mask to visit with guests that included Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.


Representatives during celebrations

Representatives from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg,  the countries that took in 161 French virus victims at the height of the crisis, were also on hand.



Measures to avoid contagion risks

No crowds were allowed anywhere near the Concorde square to avoid contagion risks, and just 2,500 guests were invited to a ceremony where only two WWII tanks trundled noisily across the paving stones.



The flyovers along the Champs-Elysees avenue included an A400M transport plane that was used to evacuate COVID-19 patients from overwhelmed hospitals at the height of the crisis.

The flights were part of Operation Resilience that Macron launched in March, which also saw a military field hospital set up in hard-hit eastern regions of the country.


Honouring Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle

The ceremony also honoured the Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle on the 50th anniversary of the general's death, and the 80th of his famous appeal of June 18, 1940, to not give up the fight against the Nazi occupation.

Large portions of Paris will remain closed Tuesday, including parks near the Eiffel Tower, to avoid crowds for the Bastille Day fireworks, and most other cities have called off their shows altogether.



Several were in tears as a military troupe saluted them with the national anthem "La Marseillaise" to close the ceremony, as Patrouille de France jets flew over trailing red, white and blue smoke.