France's muted Bastille Day celebration pays tribute to health workers

This year's National Holiday ceremony in France will be quite unlike any other. Many events that would usually draw crowds, such as firework displays and dances, have been cancelled in response to the threat caused by Covid-19. Those at the frontline of the pandemic are being honoured in place of the military.

It should be a day where thousands of people, young and old, throng the Champs-Elysees to catch a glimpse of the military parade marching down the famed avenue as French flags flutter everywhere.

Instead, a much-reduced ceremony, due to Covid-19, will take place Tuesday at Place de la Concorde, where the parade normally ends.

Some 2,000 participants and 2,500 guests will gather at the square in strict accordance with social distancing rules.

It is the first time since World War 2 that the annual parade marking the July 14, 1789 storming of the Bastille fortress during the French Revolution, will not be held at the Champs Elysées.

This will also be the first year that the military parade is being replaced by a tribute to health workers.

In a statement ahead of the national ceremony, President Emmanuel Macron said the day was an opportunity to shine a spotlight not only on the country's fallen soldiers but also on the many unsung heroes amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

"This year, faced with the exceptional crisis that we know, it is the entire nation that has taken its destiny into its own hands. It is the people of France as a whole who stood up in the face of danger and showed their fighting spirit at its best," he said.

Macron expressed his gratitude to health workers on the frontline fighting the pandemic, as well as his appreciation to every French citizen who had to make sacrifices, notably during the two-month lockdown period, commending a "united and supportive" nation.

What's on, what's off?

In Paris, a fireworks display will be fired at 11:00 pm from the Eiffel Tower as every year, however this time without members of the public, who have been asked to watch the show from home.

Celebrations elsewhere have also been muted.

The lights will stay off in Lyon, which has cancelled its traditional firework display. However, the city went ahead with its official military ceremony on Monday, but without the distinctive sound of helicopters and fighter planes overhead to avoid large crowds gathering.

Static military ceremonies will go ahead Tuesday In Lille and Marseille to thank health workers and soldiers.

While in Nice, a memorial ceremony will be held in tribute to the victims of a 2016 truck attack, which killed 86 people, gathered during a July 14 fireworks display on Nice's Promenade des Anglais. Since then, no more displays have been held.

Firemen's ball

As for the traditional firemen's ball, where fire stations usually open up their barracks to party revelers, enticing them with champagne, music, and dancing, many have been cancelled.

"It was our responsibility not to provoke a gathering of up to 5,000 people, where respecting social distancing measures would have been a sweet illusion," the Fire Brigade (BSPP) said in a statement.

Firefighters in Bordeaux also decided to avoid the risk.

Although France is no longer in a state of health emergency, gatherings of more than 5,000 people are still not allowed, and nightclubs are closed.

However in Lille, firefighters there have planned a "virtual ball" for Tuesday evening, which will be mixed by a DJ from one of their barracks and shared on social networks.

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