France has held a scaled-down Bastille Day celebration, with none of the usual tanks and troops parading down Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, in a concession to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the back of a military jeep, reviewed ranks of physically distanced troops on Tuesday in the Place de la Concorde square after a flypast by military aircraft.
“I wish, with all the French, with the armies themselves, to pay a vibrant tribute to health workers and those who, in all sectors, have enabled public, social and economic life to continue,” Macron said in a message released before the parade.
“The dedication, tenacity, courage, solidarity that emerged strongly everywhere, in our cities as in our countryside, command admiration.”
It is the first time since 1980 that the annual parade has not been held along the Champs Elysees.
Spectators on Tuesday were not allowed near Place de la Concorde, Paris’s largest square, to avoid the spread of the disease that has killed at least 30,000 people in France.
The parade kicked off with the traditional flypast by the country’s air force, with acrobatic jets trailing blue, white and red smoke. Dignitaries in the stands were seated at a distance from each other.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters demonstrated against France’s failures during the pandemic.
Among those rallying were medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best healthcare systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
Bastille Day commemorates the day in 1789 that French citizens stormed the Bastille fortress, which was used to detain prisoners and had become a symbol of the harsh rule of the French monarchy.
Traditionally, the national holiday is rounded off with a fireworks display, with thousands of people gathering around the Eiffel Tower to watch.
The fireworks will go ahead this year, but the parkland around the tower will be closed to the public.