Any hope that the two week 'confinement' imposed by President Macron would heal France’s deep divisions has vanished as swiftly as food on the supermarket shelves here.
There is growing anger in the provinces at the sudden arrival of thousands of well-heeled Parisians, who have fled the capital for their second homes. Many seaside residents in Brittany and the Côte d'Azur are senior citizens and they are furious about the sight of selfish Parisians stripping their stores of essential goods.
Back in Paris, meanwhile, video footage has been uploaded onto several right-leaning news outlets of some mild disorder outside shops in districts such as Barbès, Château Rouge and La Chapelle. These are suburbs with large immigrant populations so one doesn't need a degree from the Sorbonne to understand the implication. It's a shame these outlets don't devote the same amount of coverage to the men and women who are stacking supermarket shelves, operating the tills, cleaning hospital wards and emptying the bins. Many are first or second generation immigrants, and have courage and diligence. Without them Paris would be close to collapse.
When Marine Le Pen appeared on breakfast television this morning she expressed no gratitude for the selflessness of these people. Instead she wanted to draw attention to the claims of people breaking the 'confinement' rules in certain Parisian districts. Le Pen is fully supportive of the two week confinement but believes it is too little, too late. ‘The borders have not been controlled quickly enough,’ she said, adding that the government's inability to provide medical staff with enough masks (China has come to rescue, flying over one million masks and gloves) was indicative of their mismanagement of the crisis.
Earlier in the week Le Pen expressed outrage at the government’s response to the virus, after the former Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, said she warned the government in January that coronavirus was far more serious than the Chinese were letting on. A former doctor, Buzyn left her position in February to stand as Macron's preferred candidate in the Paris Mayoral election.
‘When I left the ministry I cried because I knew that the tsunami was in front of us," Buzyn told Le Monde. ‘I left knowing that the elections should not be taking place...we should have stopped everything, it was a farce.’ Le Pen says that if Buzyn's claims are true then the government is guilty not of incompetence but of a ‘grave political error’.
Le Pen knows the pandemic could kill off Macron's hopes of re-election in 2022. The strict 'confinement' will almost certainly prevent the Yellow Vest movement from staging their 71st successive Saturday protest at the weekend, but their anger will fester and likely explode later this year when the country enters into recession, as is predicted. Bruno Le Maire, the minister of the economy, warned of this on Tuesday, and raised the possibility of nationalising companies, something Le Pen has advocated for years.
The economy was Macron's trump card in the 2017 election campaign and he sold the French a vision of a bright globalist future – one that was far preferable to Le Pen's prejudice and protectionism. How the West has changed. Borders are back in fashion and so, increasingly, are many of Le Pen's ideals. She now has the most to gain from the crisis.