French President Macron blames his COVID-19 on negligence, bad luck

His infection “shows that the virus really can touch everyone, because I am very protected and am very careful.”

Published - December 19, 2020 09:12 am IST - Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron tweets an update about his health, after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, from Versailles, France December 18, 2020 in this still image obtained from social media video.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweets an update about his health, after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, from Versailles, France December 18, 2020 in this still image obtained from social media video.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday blamed his COVID-19 on a combination of negligence and bad luck, urging his compatriots to stay safe as critics called out slip-ups in his behavior to prevent infection, from a close-quarters handshake to repeated big-group meals over the past week.

In what looked like a self-shot video from the presidential retreat in Versailles where he was isolating, Mr. Macron said he was experiencing symptoms that included headaches, fatigue and a dry cough. He promised to give daily updates and be “totally transparent” about the evolution of his illness.

“I am doing well,” the 42-year-old French leader said, speaking softly with a bottle of gel on the desk behind him and dressed casually in a turtleneck top. “Normally, there is no reason for it to evolve in a bad way.”

Mr. Macron said his infection “shows that the virus really can touch everyone, because I am very protected and am very careful.”

“Despite everything I caught this virus — perhaps, doubtless, a moment of negligence, a moment of bad luck, too,” he said.

A fellow European leader who spent time with Mr. Macron at an EU summit last week, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic, tested positive for the virus Friday. Ten other leaders at the EU summit have since tested negative; others either aren’t getting tested or haven’t released results.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus and spent three days at Walter Reed Medical Center in early October, spoke with Mr. Macron on Thursday and wished him a speedy recovery, the White House said Friday. Several White House aides and members of Trump’s campaign staff tested positive after he did.

In France, Mr. Macron’s diagnosis brought criticism that he had set a bad example as the country sees a new uptick in cases and doctors warn families to take precautions this holiday season — especially at the dinner table.

Mr. Macron usually wears a mask and adheres to social distancing rules, and has insisted that his virus strategy is driven by science. But he has been captured on camera in recent days violating France’s virus-control guidelines.

He shook hands and half-embraced the head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Angel Gurria, at a meeting Monday. Both were masked, but Macron’s office acknowledged Friday the move was a “mistake.”

In his video message Friday, the President suggested that his behavior had helped limit the spread of the virus.

“Had I not respected the rules, the barrier measures, I would have caught it much faster and, most of all, I would have transmitted it in the preceding hours to many more people,” Mr. Macron said.

He urged people to “hold firm” and look after each other during the festive season, warning: “The virus is picking up, even stronger.”

Last week, Mr. Macron spent two days in intense negotiations at the EU summit in Brussels with the leaders of the other 26 member countries. Video excerpts released by the EU showed the leaders spread out in a circle in a huge meeting room — Macron, and most of the other leaders, were not masked.

Mr. Macron also hosted or took part in multiple large-group meals in the days before testing positive Thursday, including with members of his centrist party and rival politicians, while French people are currently advised to avoid gatherings larger than six people. His office has been contacting those present for the meals, but told some people sitting far from the president that they were not considered at risk.

Mr. Macron’s office isn’t providing details of his treatment. He is staying at the presidential residence of La Lanterne in the former royal city of Versailles, tucked in a grove tightly guarded by police.

Mr. Macron’s positive test comes as French health authorities are again seeing a rise in infections and are warning of more as French families prepare to get together for Christmas and New Year festivities. France reported another 18,254 new infections Thursday and its death toll is just under 60,000.

France’s Pasteur Institute released a study Friday suggesting that meal times at home and in public are a major source of contamination. Pasteur epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet said on France-Inter radio Friday that during the holidays, “we can see each other, simply not be too numerous, and at critical moments at meals, not too many people at the same table.”

Mr. Macron took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared” on Thursday morning and will self-isolate for seven days, in line with national health authorities’ recommendations, the presidency said. Macron plans to continue working, and went ahead with a planned speech by videoconference Thursday.

The French health minister suggested that Mr. Macron might have been infected at the EU summit in Brussels last week, but Mr. Macron had multiple meetings in Paris as well.

France had Europe’s first virus case in January, but Mr. Macron’s government came under criticism for not having enough masks or tests and not confining the population quickly enough. A strict two-month lockdown brought infections down, and France sent children back to school and their parents back to work.

But infections surged again this fall so he declared a new, softer lockdown in October aimed at relieving pressure on hospitals. The measures were relaxed slightly this week, though restaurants, tourist sites, gyms and some other facilities remain closed.

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