France scales down Bastille Day parade in concession to virus

PARIS (Reuters) - France held a scaled-down Bastille Day celebration on Tuesday, with none of the usual tanks and troops parading down Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, in a concession to the COVID-19 epidemic still stalking Europe.

Instead, President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the back of a military jeep, reviewed ranks of socially distanced troops in the Place de la Concorde 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 message released ahead of the parade.

“The dedication, tenacity, courage, solidarity that emerged strongly everywhere, in our cities as in our countryside, command admiration.”

Participants offered lengthy applause for health workers, causing some to shed tears.

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 to prevent the spread of a disease that has killed at least 30,000 in France.

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Dignitaries in the reviewing stands, including World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, were seated at a distance from each other.

Junior Economy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher had a moment of panic when she realised she had forgotten her mask. She seen was seen rushing back to her car to find it before officials handed her a spare.

Bastille Day, France’s national day, dates back to the 1789 revolution, when citizens stormed the Bastille fortress, a prison that had become a symbol of the harsh rule of the monarchy.

Traditionally, the holiday is rounded off with a fireworks display, with thousands gathering around the Eiffel Tower to watch. The fireworks will go ahead this year, but the area around the tower will be closed to the public.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Additional reporting by Ardee Napolitano; Editing by Giles Elgood