Emmanuel Macron turned on France’s five million people still unvaccinated against the coronavirus on Tuesday, vowing to “piss them off” as part of his government’s strategy.
The French president’s comments in a newspaper interview came on the day France reported another daily record with more than 271,000 COVID-19 infections, as the Omicron variant continues to drive a fifth wave of the virus.
They look set to politicise the debate over vaccinations still further, three months before the French presidential election. The government is currently trying to get plans for a new “vaccine pass” through parliament.
Macron said told Le Parisien that he had decided to act against the non-vaccinated, by “limiting as much as possible their access to social life activity”.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we will continue to do so, to the bitter end. That’s the strategy,” the head of state said.
His use of the phrase is being seen as an inversion of a comment from former French President Georges Pompidou, who said it was time to “stop pissing off the French” in 1966 when he was prime minister.
“I am not going to put them in prison, I am not going to forcibly vaccinate them,” Macron went on. “Therefore you have to say to them: from January 15 you can no longer go to a restaurant, you can no longer go for a drink, you can no longer go for a coffee, you can no longer go to the theatre, you can no longer go to the cinema,” the president said.
The French parliament is debating turning the current “health pass” into a “vaccine pass” which would prevent people who are unvaccinated from accessing certain public spaces, even with a negative test.
Macron’s remarks brought immediate condemnation from political rivals, including likely opponents in the upcoming election. Far-right candidates Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen both took to Twitter to criticise the president, Le Pen accusing him of “persisting in division” and of seeking to “make the non-vaccinated second-class citizens”.
France reported 271,686 daily COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, a new record as the new Omicron variant continued to spread throughout the country.
The previous record was around 230,000 new cases in a single day last week.
As the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic — propelled by the Omicron variant — continued to take its toll, figures from the French national health agency showed that more than 20,000 patients were in hospital with COVID-19, an increase of 2,881 since Monday. Another 297 COVID-related deaths in hospital were registered.
The number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 stood at 3,665, a long way off the more than 7,000 during the first wave in 2020, but approaching the 4,900 seen during the second wave the same year.
Unvaccinated patients form a large majority of coronavirus patients in France’s intensive care units. Figures from December 19 show that whereas the number of people aged over 20 with three vaccine jabs in intensive care was 4.82 per million of population, among the unvaccinated the proportion rose to 182 per million.
Some hospitals have been rescheduling treatments for other diseases to deal with the COVID crisis.
Around 76% of France’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 40% of people aged 12 and over have received a booster jab.
The high number of infections comes after France carried out eight million COVID-19 tests last week, Health Minister Olivier Véran said, with the positivity rate creeping up to 15%.
Doctors say however that although Omicron patients are being treated in hospital, the vast majority of intensive care cases are people with the Delta variant.
While France closed nightclubs in December amid rising COVID cases, the government shied away from imposing stricter measures over the holidays, focussing instead on pushing a COVID-19 booster dose campaign.
Several new measures have now come into effect in the new year, including a mask mandate on children from the age of six in indoor spaces and bars and restaurants only being able to serve people who are seated.
Gatherings have also been limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors, and face masks must be worn in city centres.
In the second to last week of the year, the incidence rate of COVID-19 in France increased by 50%, Public Health France said, with the rate above 1,000 cases per 100,000 people in four regions.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 124,000 people have died due to COVID-19.