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'We feel useful': Meet the frontline workers keeping Lyon going during lockdown

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By Guillaume Petit  & Mary Colombel
From left to right: Chantal, Baptiste and Sebastien
From left to right: Chantal, Baptiste and Sebastien   -   Copyright  Euronews

In her bakery in Lyon's old quarter, Chantal has plenty of food on offer.

There are homemade dishes, pastries, there are even a few Easter eggs left. She has her ice cream stall set up, ready for the summer. Only one thing is missing: the customers.

But despite the empty streets, Chantal and her husband have got up at 5 am every day since the lockdown began to keep the few customers they do still have happy and fed.

Her bakery has lost more than half its turnover since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, just above the limit of losses to qualify for state aid.

"We’ve never been through something like this and it's difficult," she told Euronews.

"The government takes into account restaurants but they seem to forget there are bakeries and caterers like us that are struggling with major supply chain problems."

Frontline workers paid minimum wage

With few supplies and fewer customers, many businesses have been moving in slow motion for almost seven weeks. Firms have had to reduce staff to comply with social-distancing measures. Those remaining have had to work longer hours.

Baptiste, who works at the cash desk in a small supermarket in the centre of town, is worried that despite strict hygiene rules he is taking a big risk by coming to work. The minimum wage he gets for his troubles doesn't compensate for the stress, he says.

"I admit this is an anxious atmosphere, we also have the pressure from our family who is worried," he said.

The plight of those forced to work during the coronavirus lockdown, when the vast majority of white-collar workers in France are working from home, has come into sharp focus on May Day.

Usually, on May 1, workers would be taking to the streets across France to demand better pay and working conditions, but COVID-19 has put paid to any protests this year.

The lockdown has highlighted what unions are calling a "stark disparity" between the essential nature of the jobs fulfilled by frontline workers and the low salary they receive.

It is a sentiment that is appreciated by customers.

"It's an essential job, vital for us, and I think it's not valued enough," one tells Euronews at Baptiste's supermarket.

"We applaud health professionals every night, well I think we should also applaud cashiers too."

"We feel useful"

President Emmanuel Macron has announced that frontline workers will receive a €1,000 bonus, but those employed by the state aren't eligible.

Sebastien, a bus driver, says he is proud to take people to work every day but he can't hide his disappointment. "We would have liked that," he says.

Sebastien has been driving his route since the beginning of the lockdown and he says he is happy stricter measures have been put in place to ensure his safety. But what keeps him going is helping people.

"We feel useful for the ones who go to buy food, for the ones who go to work," he says.