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Emmanuel Macron has promised aggressive action against those who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19, with the French President setting out how he would severely limit social their freedoms.
Mr Macron’s provocative remarks, part of a strategy to change the minds of the unvaccinated, have been criticised by his opponents at a time when France's parliament is debating new coronavirus legislation.
Speaking to the Le Parisien newspaper, Mr Macron said he “really” wanted to “hassle” the unvaccinated. “We will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy,” he said.
According to the president, 90 per cent of France’s eligible population has been vaccinated. The plan is to reduce the minority “who are resisting” even further, he said.
“I won't send [the unvaccinated] to prison, I won't vaccinate by force. So we have to tell them: from January 15 you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
“They come to undermine the strength of a nation. When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen,” he added.
Europe — and the rest of the world — is tackling a surge in Covid cases caused by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. It has led many countries to reintroduce or harden Covid restrictions to stem the tide. There has also been a push by governments to get people vaccinated and to have booster shots.
Currently in France, people have had to show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test at many public venues. On Tuesday, France reported 264,184 new coronavirus infections.
Mr Macron’s administration aims to push through legislation that would limit social activities for the unvaccinated from January 15.
The government was angered when the opposition joined up on Monday to hold up the passage of the proposed new rules through parliament. After talks on Tuesday, debate resumed later that day.
However, consideration of the bill was suspended early on Wednesday following Mr Macron's remarks. The president of the session, Marc Le Fur, said the atmosphere in the chamber could not meet “conditions for a calm working environment".
Mr Macron’s rivals in this year's presidential elections criticised his comments.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen said “a president should not say that,” accusing him of seeking to make some French “second-class citizens.”
Another far-right candidate, the pundit Eric Zemmour, tweeted that “as president I will stop hassling the French”. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon described Mr Macron's comments as “appalling".
Valerie Pecresse, of the conservative party The Republicans, told CNews she was “outraged by his comments”.
“Insults are never a good solution,” she said.
Mr Macron has not officially announced his presidential candidacy yet, but is widely expected to run and remains the favourite.
“There is no false suspense. I want to,” he told the Le Parisien.
“Once the health situation allows it and I have made everything clear — inside myself and with respect to the political equation — I will say what it [the decision] is.”
The newspaper Le Monde said Mr Macron was justified in launching a “merciless battle” against those who refuse to vaccinate. “War is therefore declared,” it said. “For nearly two years, already, against Covid-19, which poisons and bruises France as much as the whole world. But also, in recent weeks, against the few million citizens who still refuse to be vaccinated.”