A widower whose wife died from Covid during the first lockdown in France in 2020 has set up an association to push for a remembrance day for victims of the disease.
He wrote to President Macron to explain why he thinks this is necessary and was received by an official at the Elysée who said his request would be considered.
A 'brutal' experience
“What happened to my wife and many other victims was brutal,” Lionel Petitpas said.
“I have said many times before and I still say it – she was treated and died as if she had the plague in medieval times.”
Mr Petitpas was not allowed to see his wife Joelle, 66, after she left their home in Reims, Marne, in an ambulance on March 23, 2020, collected by staff wearing full protective equipment.
On March 29, he was told that she had died.
Her funeral was held without him being allowed to attend and she was cremated straight afterwards.
He was handed her ashes the following day.
“My last memory of her was of her looking out of the window of the ambulance and giving me a little, loving wave.
“A week later, I was spreading her ashes, alone, in the cemetery,” he said.
It is estimated over 140,000 people have died so far from Covid in France, and Mr Petitpas said he wants a national memorial day to help relatives come to terms with their loss.
“Many, like me, feel they were not allowed to grieve because of the health restrictions at the time,” he said.
“Having a national day will help us remember our loved ones, what happened, and show that France as a nation recognises our pain.
“It will be nice too to have a memorial of some kind so that future generations will remember what happened.”
Dignity must be restored
Mr Petitpas says national days of remembrance have been held in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
“I do not see why France should try and act as if what has happened is normal. It is not,” he said.
“Our departed died with very little dignity.”
“Many, like me, were not allowed to have a funeral, which is difficult to live with.
“A day of remembrance will help to restore their dignity and show a recognition of what people went through.”
Local remembrance days have been organised by the association he set up, called Victimes du Covid 19, in Châlons-en-Champagne, in Marne, and Talent, in Côte-d’Or.
Reims is due to hold its own day in the autumn but Mr Petitpas hopes that a national day will be announced before then, after the presidential and parliamentary elections.