Macron under fire after saying France should make life miserable for the unvaccinated

President Emmanuel Macron of France received fierce criticism on Wednesday after even arguing that the government should make life miserable for the unvaccinated, as soaring infection rates have put him under pressure to curb the coronavirus pandemic ahead of a major presidential election.

“I really want to piss off the unvaccinated,” Mr Macron said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper. “And so we will continue to do so until the end.”

Mr. Macron said those who had refused coronavirus vaccines were part of a small minority. About three-quarters of France’s 67 million people are fully vaccinated, but about five million French people have not received a single shot.

“I do not want to put them in jail,” he said. “I do not want to vaccinate them by force.”

Instead, the government is pushing a bill through parliament that will tighten eligibility for France’s health passports by no longer allowing people to have one with negative tests. The pass gives access to restaurants, cafes, museums and other public spaces.

Once the bill is approved, only evidence of vaccination – or in some cases, of recovery from Covid-19 – will be accepted, effectively excluding the unvaccinated from large parts of French social life.

France has seen a record number of newly confirmed cases almost every day over the past week – over 270,000 for Tuesday alone – and hospital admissions are steadily rising. But unlike some of its European neighbors, France has failed to impose restrictions such as curfews or barriers to keep the rate of infection in check.

Mr. Macron has consistently made it clear that his government’s strategy was to make the lives of unvaccinated French people uncomfortable. But his comments, which were published late Tuesday on the newspaper’s website, marked the first time he pronounced it in such a crude way, even though the rapid rise in the Omicron variant of coronavirus is already tearing France’s social contract on Covid.

Mr. Macron’s comments quickly caused a stir in parliament, interrupting a session in which lawmakers discussed the government’s vaccination law. The reaction from his political opposition was swift.

Christian Jacob, the leader of the right-wing Republican party, told lawmakers the comments were inappropriate for a French head of state. “I can not support a bill whose sole purpose is to annoy the French,” he said.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader and one of Mr. Macron’s main opponents in the upcoming election accused him of “waging war” against the unvaccinated.

“Even if one does not share their choices, they have not broken any of our country’s laws,” she told reporters in parliament late Tuesday, saying Mr Macron had made a political and moral mistake. “He continues his policy of division, pitting the French against each other,” she added.

Mr. Macron’s comments come in a heated political climate – less than four months before the presidential election – and after he promised in a recent interview that he had learned from mistakes made earlier in his tenure, where his one-liners were regularly criticized as dismissive and out of touch.

Opponents of the president have maneuvered in parliament to delay the adoption of the Vaccination Act, and his supporters have reported receiving death threats and insults because they back up the law. A lawmaker’s garage was set on fire and hostile graffiti last month.

Stéphane Séjourné, Member of the European Parliament and close ally of Mr Macrons, defended the President’s comments, quarrel on Twitter that it was the unvaccinated who bothered the French by overloading hospitals, exhausting health workers and “forcing the rest of the population to endure restrictions.”

“So yeah, we have to piss them off in return,” he said.

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