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A view on the coronavirus situation from a former Thatcham resident living in France

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'If they want a job at the end of all this or to stay alive, they have to abide by the rules'

ALISON Feeley runs a B&B and holiday let business in southwest France with her husband Nick. They have been in lockdown since last Tuesday (March 17).

President Macron introduced the measures in order to contain the spread of coronavirus and Alison feels that the UK is about 10 days behind what the French people are going through now.

Alison House grew up in Thatcham and Bucklebury and went to Kennet School. When she married Nick Feeley, they moved to Newtown Common, where she ran her own consultancy business. The couple moved to France about 10 years ago, along with their two children Megan and Abigail, to start the holiday business.

"We were looking for a simpler lifestyle, away from the consumerism that seemed to be eating everybody up - and we found it."

However, the bookings for their gites and b&b business have all but dried up now and Alison and Nick are living in isolation, tending to their garden.

"We are lucky," says Alison, "we have some land and we have plenty to do. We're getting the vegetable beds in good order, because growing our own means we don't have to go out."

She explains how the lockdown works in France.

"Basically people can only go out if they have a piece of paper, which they have to sign and which has to give a valid reason - shopping or a doctors appointment for instance - you can download the form online or have it sent to you in the post."

And you have to have a new document for each trip you make.

"If you get stopped by the police - and there are blockades everywhere, which move every day so people don't know where they are going to be - you will be fined on the spot if you don't have the right document.

"Each person has to have their own signed piece of paper, even for going for a walk."

Acceptable reasons for going out are to work - if your work is essential and cannot be done from home, to shop for essential items, for medical appointments or other health-related reasons, for vital family reasons, eg urgent care for children or the elderly - simply visiting family is not a good enough reason - and for physical exercise.

Trips outside the home to take exercise are still allowed, unlike in Spain where it is banned, however there are some conditions - you have to go on your own and cannot play group sports. So going for a run alone is OK, going to play street football is not. If you have a dog, you are also allowed to walk it.

The fine for not complying with these rules was originally 38 euros, but people were still not taking the lockdown seriously, so this has been upped to 135 euros. If you don't pay it within 15 days it goes up to 375 euros or you could face imprisonment.

"It's the only way to make people comply. It's a stark choice, do this or you might die or infect other people.

"For instance, a lady was going to the doctors at Castelsarrasin, a local village, the other day and had her paper and ID, but had taken her brother with her. He didn't have his papers so they fined him 135 euros on the spot."

She explained that the initial quarantine period is for 15 days, but President Macron has said that if people still aren't taking it seriously enough then it will be extended for another 30 days.

"You have to stay within your own department - nobody can cross to another area." A 'department' is the equivalent to our counties, so if you wanted to go from Berkshire to Hampshire you would not be able to.

Alison says that the panic buying that is currently going on in the UK was happening in France about 10 days ago, but now it has calmed down and because of these quarantine measures shops are well stocked.

"You are not allowed to buy more than three of any item anyway. I saw a woman with 18 bags of flour, the cashier told her to put 15 back and to then go to the back of the queue."

One thing that might seem strange but actually makes sense is that nobody is allowed to go riding. "If you own a horse you are not allowed to ride it, the livery stables have to look after them.

"This is because if you had an accident you would be taking vital services away from looking after coronavirus patients. And if you are caught riding, aside from any fine, your insurance is immediately declared invalid, so if you do have an accident you would have to pay a lot for any healthcare."

It may seem drastic and draconian, but Alison says it is necessary.

"It's a weird existence, but we know it has to be done. In France everybody greets one another with 'la bise' [kisses on the cheek] - it's a part of their culture and it's quite funny to watch as they have to stop themselves from doing that now.

"We haven't seen anyone for days and you hardly see any cars on the road."

Alison lives in a rural area, so although they are aware of coronavirus cases, they haven't really hit in nearby villages.

"We know there are some in Montauban, which is the nearest big town, about the size of Reading, and a couple of cases 20 minutes away, but the medical services seem to be coping."

Alison's parents still live in Bucklebury and Thatcham and she worries about not being able to visit them, but she also recognises that these harsh measures are the only way to get the message across.

"I'm quite sure Boris Johnson will have to take similar measures, certainly in London and maybe in the whole country. And the only way he's going to do it is with heavy fines and using the army and police.

"If they want a job at the end of all this or to stay alive, they have to abide by the rules. People have to take this thing seriously."

UPDATE: As Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces a lockdown in this country, Alison has sent this message:

"In France, we had more news tonight as people are still flouting the restrictions. We have now been told that if we are caught three times in 30 days driving our cars without the required forms we will lose our drivers licence for three years."

The official statement reads: 'Many people have not followed the confinement rules that have been in place for a week now. Given this state of affairs, the government has decided to increase sanctions under the Emergency Law to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic which be will adopted in the coming hours.'

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