Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron oversaw slimmed-down Bastille Day celebrations in Paris today as France marked its most important national day in unusual fashion.
An hour-long military parade took place in Place de la Concorde, the city’s largest square, as opposed to the Champs Elysees – the first time since 1945 that the street has not been the focal point of the celebrations.
The parade involved 2,195 troops, half as many as usual, with detachments limited to 49 people to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Meanwhile the crowd was limited to just 2,500 spectators with foreign dignitaries largely replaced by the families of health workers who died fighting the virus along with essential staff.
The event, which typically attracts tens of thousands of onlookers, has been closed to the public this year. Spectators have also been told to watch a night-time fireworks display from home and traditional parties at fire stations, which throw open their doors to welcome revellers, have been cancelled.
The parade comes a day after Macron signed a deal that guarantees £7billion in payrises and new contracts for health workers, who had planned to demonstrate opposite the square to highlight the government’s failings.
Emmanuel Macron took part in slimmed-down Bastille Day celebrations in Paris on Tuesday, marking the day the French Revolution started
Brigitte Macron arrived separately to her husband to oversee the parade, which took place in Place de la Concorde instead of along the Champs Elysee for the first time since 1945
Mr Macron arrived in Place de la Concorde riding in the back of a jeep, before taking his seat in the stands to watch
2,195 troops took part in the parade – half the usual number – with detachments limited to 49 people to help prevent the spread of coronavirus
Masks were not worn during the parade itself, though some troops were pictured wearing them before and afterwards
A fly-past of military aircraft trailing the Tricolour (pictured) were also joined this year by aircraft and helicopters which were used to transport coronavirus patients at the height of the crisis
French military jets fly over the Arc de Triomphe during Bastille Day celebrations which went ahead in Paris on Tuesday, though were significantly reduced from their usual splendor
A fly-past featuring French military planes also included aircraft that were used to transport coronavirus patients at the peak of France’s crisis
Healthcare workers and the families of staff who died while fighting the coronavirus pandemic were among 2,500 dignitaries who were invited to watch the event
One soldier had to be helped out of the parade after passing out, with medics lifting his legs as they try to bring him around
This years’ commemoration is also paying homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
‘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 message released ahead of the parade.
‘The dedication, tenacity, courage, solidarity that emerged strongly everywhere, in our cities as in our countryside, command admiration.’
He hailed the French military for building a field hospital and carrying patients in cargo jets or specially fitted high-speed trains, and paid tribute to the volunteers who allowed ‘our nation to hold on.’
At the start of the ceremony, fighter jets painted the sky red, white and blue in a traditional fly-past, but were also joined by helicopters that transported coronavirus emergency patients.
Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron sat apart in a socially-distanced crowd as they watch Bastille Day celebrations in Paris
Emmanuel Macron (centre, rear), wife Brigitte (to his right) and new French Prime Minister Jean Castex watch the parade
Included in the crowd was Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation who has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the crisis
Macron dedicated the ceremony to health staff and essential workers who found themselves on the frontlines of France’s coronavirus response
Emmauel Macron and wife Brigitte watch as a tank rolls through Place de la Concorde as part of Bastille Day celebrations
Emmanuel Macron offers a socially-distanced greeting to Dr Tedros following the parade
Macron’s pay deal for health staff did not entirely stop protests, with a banner reading ‘behind the tributes Macron suffocates the hospital’ floated over the parade
France is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world with coronavirus, having seen almost 210,000 patients diagnosed, and more than 30,000 deaths.
The country went into a strict lockdown in early March in order to slow the spread of the virus, before beginning a gradual reopening starting in May.
Experts are now warning of the possibility of a second wave of infections, as people head back into public spaces and fly off on holidays.
The annual events mark the storming of Bastille prison on 14 July 1789, seen as the start of the French Revolution.
The celebrations took place shortly after Macron has agreed a £7billion payrise and hiring spree for healthcare workers after they took to the streets in protest following the coronavirus crisis.
The money will largely cover pay rises for existing staff – with nurses, care workers and non-medical staff getting the bulk of it – while 15,000 new staff will be hired.
For the first time since 1945 troops did not march down the Champs Elysee (pictured), but instead marched around a square at the far end of the street
French soldiers take part in a slimmed-down Bastille Day parade in central Paris on Tuesday
The number of guests were limited to 2,500 – with crowds required to sit in chairs placed at intervals to ensure social distancing
The parade took place in Place de la Concorde, Paris’s largest public square, and not on the Champs Elysee for the first time since 1945
French soldiers stand at attention in front of socially-distanced crowds during France’s Bastille Day celebrations
French troops parade during in the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde
Members of medical staff pose with the French flag as planes from the acrobatics team Patrouille de France make a display in the background on Bastille Day
The move comes after two months of negotiations that were launched by Emmanuel Macron amid protests over his handling of the crisis.
It is likely to increase calls for other hard-hit European countries – such as the UK, Spain and Italy – to follow suit.
Health workers were regularly honoured during France’s first wave of coronavirus with people applauding their efforts from their doorsteps.
But medics demanded concrete reward for their sacrifice, and took to the streets demanding investment after years of cuts to the health system.
The demonstrations sometimes descended into rioting amid fears they were being hijakced by Antifa, with police using tear gas and baton charges.
But on Tuesday negotiations yielded a deal that a majority of unions have now signed up to.
New French Prime Minister Jean Castex hailed the deal as an ‘historic moment for our health system’ at a signing ceremony on Monday.
‘This is first of all recognition of those who have been on the front line in the fight against this epidemic,’ he said.
‘It’s also a way of catching up the delay for each and every one – including perhaps myself – has their share of responsibility.’
Soldiers wear face masks as they prepare to take part in Bastille Day celebrations in Paris
French soldiers perform a military exercise during the Bastille Day celebrations on Place de la Concorde in Paris
Student police officers take part in the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde in Paris
French troops members parade as the elite acrobatic flying team ‘Patrouille de France’ lets off Tricolour smoke over the Arc de Triomphe in the background
Pupils of the Ecole des officers de la Gendarmerie nationale take part in the annual parade, which marks France’s most important national day
A student of the Ecole Polytechniaue wearing a protective facemask arrrives prior to the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris