France cautiously celebrates Bastille Day, clouded by virus

PARIS — Bastille Day is back, sort of.

France is celebrating its national holiday Wednesday with thousands of troops marching in a Paris parade and traditional parties around the country, after last year’s events were scaled back because of virus fears.

This year those fears are still lurking, but the government decided to go ahead with the parade on the Champs-Elysees as part of a broader effort to return to pre-pandemic activity.

The number of spectators is limited, and they are being restricted to a small section of the parade. In addition, each spectator must show a special pass proving they have been fully vaccinated, recently recovered from the virus or a negative virus test. Similar restrictions will be in place for those gathering to watch an elaborate fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday evening.

Leading the parade will be members of a French-led international force fighting extremists in Mali and the surrounding Sahel region. President Emmanuel Macron announced last week that France is slashing the number of troops in the region because of evolving threats.

Among others honored at the parade will be military medics who have shuttled vaccines to France’s overseas territories, treated virus patients or otherwise helped fight the pandemic.

A total of 73 warplanes, medical helicopters and other aircraft will traverse the skies over the Paris region.

Last year’s Bastille day parade was canceled and replaced by a static ceremony honoring health care workers who died fighting COVID-19.

France has lost more than 111,000 lives to the pandemic, and the government is pushing hard to get more people vaccinated to fight resurgent infections driven by the delta variant.

Bastille Day marks the storming of the Bastille prison in eastern Paris on July 14, 1789, commemorated as the birth of the French Revolution.