Emmanuel Macron has sparked controversy in France by declaring that he wants to “piss off” people who refuse to get vaccinated.
The French president made the inflammatory comment to Le Parisien as his party tries to enact legislation which would bar the unvaccinated from some venues.
Currently, the country’s health pass, which was introduced in the summer, allows people to gain entry to such settings with proof of either vaccination status or a recent negative coronavirus test result.
Parliament is debating the government’s planned new vaccine pass. The measure will exclude unvaccinated individuals from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights.
Mr Macron, 44, made the comments during a sit-down interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of the newspaper’s readers.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we’re going to continue doing so, until the end. That’s the strategy,” Mr Macron said.
“I won’t send [the unvaccinated] to prison, I won’t vaccinate by force. So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you won’t be able to go to the restaurant anymore,” he added.
Not mincing his words, the president also said that a democracy’s greatest enemies are “lies and stupidity”, before reinforcing his message that the government would make life tougher for the unjabbed “by limiting, as much as possible, their access to activities in social life”.
As almost 90 per cent of French adults are now fully vaccinated, the government’s policy will affect relatively few people, Mr Macron said.
Political opponents said his remarks should not have been made by a statesman, with Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right party National Rally, saying they were “unworthy of his office”. His aim is “to wage war against a portion of the French”, she claimed.
Eric Zemmour, another of Mr Macron’s far-right challengers in the upcoming presidential election, criticised him for “cruelty”, while other politicians said he was being arrogant and out-of-touch, charges more commonly levelled at him early in his presidency.
In light of the president’s comments, opposition parties asked to suspend debates about the coronavirus bill passing through the National Assembly, according to France Info radio.
Some analysts say the remarks have medical and political undertones. With a presidential election due in April in which he is expected to run, Mr Macron may have calculated that enough people are now vaccinated – and upset with remaining anti-vaxxers – for his comment to go down well with voters.
Mr Macron’s goal is “to draw all the attention” and “make his contenders disappear, on the Trump model”, political communications expert Philippe Moreau Chevrolet tweeted.
The furore comes as France grapples with Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. A total of 271,686 Covid-19 infections were recorded on Tuesday, far above the previous daily high of 232,000 cases, seen on 31 December.
By comparison, the UK had 218,274 daily cases on Tuesday and Germany reported 30,561.
The coronavirus levels seen in France are putting severe pressure on hospitals, with Covid-19 patients taking up 72 per cent of the country’s intensive care beds. Meanwhile, more than a dozen cases of the new variant B.1.640.2 – named IHU – have been detected in southeastern France.
Elsewhere in Europe, anger is mounting at coronavirus curbs, with violent protests taking place in the Netherlands and Germany in recent days. Earlier this week, one demonstrator bit a police officer in eastern Germany.
Agencies contributed to this report