“I really want to piss them off,” Macron said of the roughly 4 million French people who have not yet gotten the jab. “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.”
The remarks prompted an outcry from a number of opposition politicians and caused the French parliament to suspend debate on virus restrictions. The government is currently pushing new legislation to require proof of vaccination for entry to public venues and transportation, without an option to test.
French citizens are currently required to present proof of vaccination or a negative covid test to enter public spaces, including restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and trains. That’s set to change on Jan. 15, when the government plans to enact a new law barring most unvaccinated people from these venues.
Although France got a slow start to its covid-19 vaccine campaign, nearly 74% of the population is now fully vaccinated. The country has been hard hit by the omicron variant, though: Authorities recorded 271,686 new covid cases yesterday, a record high and more than anywhere else in Europe.
Macron is facing criticism on both sides of the political spectrum for his comments. Far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who finished second to the president in the 2017 election, accused him of trying to make unvaccinated people “second-class citizens.” Jean-Luc Melanchon, head of the far-left France Insoumise movement, described the new mandate as “collective punishment against individual freedom.”
The French president is far from the only leader doubling down on vaccine mandates in an effort to curb the omicron surge. Austria plans to fine unvaccinated people up to €3,600 ($4,080) every three months starting in February, while Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to require covid vaccines for all citizens by February. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison warned tennis superstar Novak Djokovic, who’s believed to be unvaccinated, that he may not be able to enter the country and play in the Australian Open because of strict vaccine rules.
Macron may have more luck implementing strict rules than his US counterpart Joe Biden, whose vaccine mandates for large businesses and healthcare workers are headed to the Supreme Court following a slew of legal challenges.
But France’s leader could pay a political price for his tough rhetoric: The country has a presidential election in April, and if he runs again he’ll face opposition from Le Pen as well as Valérie Pécresse, head of the conservative Les Républicains party, who accused Macron today of trying to “pick out good and bad French people.”