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Macron pledges to infuriate France’s unvaccinated by tightening restrictions amid omicron surge

French President Emmanuel Macron angered opposition lawmakers after his comments in a French newspaper on Jan. 4 that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated. (Video: Reuters)
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French President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to make daily life more inconvenient for unvaccinated people in the country, which is facing a spike in coronavirus infections driven by the omicron variant.

“I am not for pissing off the French … however, the unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” he said in an interview published Tuesday in the French newspaper Le Parisien. “I’m not going to throw [the unvaccinated] in prison. I’m not going to get them vaccinated by force. … We put pressure on the unvaccinated by limiting their access to social activities as much as possible.”

Macron’s remarks come as his government moves to impose more restrictions on the unvaccinated. France requires people to present proof of vaccination, recovery from past infection or a recent negative coronavirus test to access venues such as restaurants and cinemas. But the government is pushing through a bill that would remove the option of providing a negative test for entry.

The president had said in November that vaccine passports would allow Paris to avoid the strict lockdown of the unvaccinated that countries such as Austria have implemented. The potential tightening of the system has sparked anger among anti-vaccination activists and extremist politicians, though numerous polls indicate a majority of the country supports vaccine passports.

Over 73 percent of the French population has been fully immunized against the virus, according to Our World in Data, which tracks public figures. That is higher than the European Union average of just under 70 percent.

Macron, who has not formally declared that he will run in April’s presidential election, is leading in the polls. His latest remarks sparked a pushback from political opponents, including the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who slammed Macron as “unworthy” of the presidency.

“The guarantor of the unity of the nation persists in dividing it and … wants to make the unvaccinated second-class citizens,” she said on Twitter. Le Pen finished second to Macron in the 2017 elections and was seen as likely to push him hard again this year, but she has recently faded in the polls.

She has also argued that vaccine passes are useless, saying coronavirus vaccines do not prevent transmission. (The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that data indicates vaccinated people potentially have reduced transmissibility, though more research is needed.)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who will contest the election for the far-left France Insoumise movement, said Macron’s “admission” that unvaccinated people will not be allowed in many spaces proved that he was carrying out “collective punishment against individual freedom.”

Unvaccinated pockets of France expose inequalities and could fuel a winter wave

Another potential flash point as the election draws nearer is how closely measures to contain the virus will be followed at political rallies.

Last month, French authorities placed a cap of 2,000 people on indoor events, with outdoor gatherings limited to 5,000. The country’s top constitutional authority has ruled that the government can impose measures such as vaccine passes, but it carved out exemptions to some regulations for political and religious events.

Le Pen’s National Rally party said this week that it will not adopt the cap or ask for proof of vaccination, bucking calls from Macron’s government. (Le Pen’s campaign has postponed a meeting slated for this month to early February, citing the worsening pandemic.)

The far-right provocateur Éric Zemmour, who announced his bid for the presidency last month, has also taken a hard line against coronavirus containment measures. He held a campaign event in front of some 13,000 supporters in early December, before Paris announced new restrictions — a move his rivals called irresponsible.

Valérie Pécresse, the center-right candidate for the Republicans, who is running a close second to Macron in the polls, said in a speech this week that her campaign would make the “responsible” choice of observing health restrictions.

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