Emmanuel Macron is accused of behaving like a ‘monarch’ who thinks he is ‘the best virologist’

Emmanuel Macron has been accused of behaving like a ‘monarch’ while presiding over ‘a disaster the like of which we’ve never seen’ after he imposed a third national lockdown. 

The French president last night blamed the ‘British variant’ for creating ‘a pandemic within a pandemic’ as he finally bowed to weeks of pressure from medics and epidemiologists to impose four weeks of new restrictions.

In a televised address, the 43-year-old conceded sombrely that ‘the epidemic is accelerating, and we are likely to lose control,’ as he ordered people to remain inside their homes and children to stop going to school.  

But Macron was savaged in parliament today by opposition MPs across the house who accused him of Napoleonic arrogance and acting too slowly amid the worst infection rate in Europe.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the left-wing Unbowed France party, condemned his tenure as a ‘disgrace’ as the house boycotted a vote on the measures.

‘It really is April 1 today,’ he told MPs. ‘Everything has already been decided and we are invited to come and acclaim…the presidential monarch, the best virologist in France apparently, and modesty’s best friend. We will boycott this vote.’

France will enter a third national lockdown for four weeks, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, expanding current measures in 19 territories to the whole country. Pictured: Macron seen on TV on Wednesday night

Right-wing National Rally leader Marine Le Pen was among MPs sticking the boot into Macron today in Paris

Right-wing National Rally leader Marine Le Pen was among MPs sticking the boot into Macron today in Paris

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon

French PM Jean Castex

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, left, during the parliamentary debate on the lockdown rules and French PM Jean Castex, right. Melenchon said: ‘Everything has already been decided and we are invited to come and acclaim…the presidential monarch, the best virologist in France apparently, and modesty’s best friend. We will boycott this vote.’

Le Monde went for, 'Macron bets on a final lockdown'

Liberation headlined it, 'In April on a wire, in May...'

The French press savaged Macron this morning, Le Monde went for, ‘Macron bets on a final lockdown’, while Liberation headlined it, ‘In April on a wire, in May…’. Many of the papers expressed doubts about the president’s promise that France would be back to normality by mid-May

Le Figaro said, 'Lockdown, continues... the end?'

La Depeche said: 'Macron reconfines France'

Le Figaro said, ‘Lockdown, continues… the end?,’ while La Depeche said: ‘Macron reconfines France’

‘You are responsible before history of a health disaster the likes of which this country has never seen. You let the wave rise by aggravating everything.’

France has recorded an average of 38,000 new Covid cases each day over the last week – the highest figure on the Continent. 

Its infection rate is at 70 per cent of where it was at the peak of cases it saw in November.

Damien Abad, of the right-wing Republicans Party, told parliament Macron’s health crisis was a ‘berezina’ – a French term which refers to a humiliating defeat suffered by Napoleon during his failed invasion of Russia.

Abad said Macron’s administration was always ‘one move, one vision, one decision too late.’

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen said: ‘In a situation that is turning into health and economic chaos, the country needs to be led more than ingeniously reassured.’ 

Macron awoke to front pages which did not share his optimism that France would be returning to normality by the middle of May.

‘Lockdown, the sequel… and the end?’ Le Figaro’s headline said.

Le Parisien called Macron’s tactic ‘slowing without shutting down’ despite the fact the outbreak ‘has never been so dangerous or complicated.’

Le Monde’s Solenne de Royer wrote that Macron’s announcement was an obvious attempt to ‘mask the government’s powerlessness against an out-of-control epidemic and cumulative delays since last summer over vaccination and intensive care beds.’

That same paper earlier this week ran damaging leaks from inside the Elysee Palace that Macron believed himself more of an epidemiologist than his advisors. 

‘The president has become an epidemiologist,’ colleagues told the paper.

Last night, Macron claimed the ‘British variant’ had changed the outlook because it was more dangerous and ‘more deadly.’ 

‘We are faced with a new situation,’ he said. ‘We are involved in a race. Propagation of a new variant that was identified by our British neighbours must be dealt with.’ 

Current efforts to limit the virus ‘were too limited at a time when the epidemic is accelerating’.

‘With regards to schools, we’ve all got to be aware of our responsibilities as far as our youth are concerned,’ said Mr Macron. ‘We’ve kept them open since September 2020, but this will now change.’ 

The president said non-essential shops would remain shut, along with businesses such as cafes, bars, and restaurants. 

Under the restrictions, people are allowed to go outside for leisure, but only within a 6 miles radius from their homes – and without gathering. 

The French finance ministry said the new lockdown would see 150,000 businesses close nationwide, at an estimated cost of more than £9 billion for every month their doors are shut. 

In a call for unity, Macron added: ‘If we stay united in the coming weeks … then we will see light at the end of the tunnel.’

Striking a more optimistic tone for the medium term, he said some cultural venues and cafe terraces would reopen in mid-May ‘under strict rules’ and a calendar drawn up for a progressive reopening of other facilities.

‘Thanks to the vaccine, the way out of the crisis is emerging,’ he said. 

France's infection rate has soared in recent weeks in a resurgence blamed on the British variant of Covid-19, which has now resulted in a third national lockdown

France’s infection rate has soared in recent weeks in a resurgence blamed on the British variant of Covid-19, which has now resulted in a third national lockdown

Death rates are also climbing and the total is nearing the tally of 100,000 which has already been reached by the UK and Italy

Death rates are also climbing and the total is nearing the tally of 100,000 which has already been reached by the UK and Italy 

He also announced that the vaccine drive would be open to all those over 60 from April 16 and those over 50 from May 15. 

The lockdown represents an embarrassing U-turn for Mr Macron, who ignored a call from his scientific advisers to introduce a tougher lockdown at the end of January. 

But the French president took a gamble on curfews and local restrictions in the hope of giving the economy a chance to recover from a deep slump. 

His options have narrowed in recent weeks as the feared British variant sweeps across France and Europe, and with presidential elections scheduled for 2022, Mr Macron is having to weigh both political and health considerations.

Acknowledging criticism from opponents, Macron struck a more humble tone than last week when he said that he had no reason to apologise for his handling of the pandemic.

‘At every stage of this epidemic, we could say to ourselves that we could have done better, that we made mistakes. That’s all true,’ he said.

‘But I know one thing: we have stood firm, we’ve learned and at every stage we’ve improved.’

At the end of January, the president bucked the European trend and went against the recommendation of his scientific advisers by deciding that France would not enter a third lockdown.

For a month, the bet looked to have paid off as new cases flatlined at around 20,000 a day in February, with France in a state of semi-openness – under a night-time curfew, but with shops and schools open.

But with daily cases having doubled to around 40,000 and hospitals in infection hotspots like Paris overflowing, the tide looks to have turned as medics pleaded for tighter restrictions.

The new measures stop short of a full national lockdown observed in France during the first wave of the pandemic in March and April 2020, when people were only allowed out for essential business or for exercise once a day.

‘We have adopted a strategy since the beginning of the year that aims to contain the epidemic without shutting ourselves in,’ he said. 

A survey Wednesday by the Elabe polling group for BFM news channel showed that 70 percent of French people supported a strict lockdown in the most affected areas and 81 percent expected it to be announced.

Macron again defended not locking down in January.

Not locking down in January meant ‘we gained precious weeks of liberty, weeks of learning for our children, we allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their head above water, without losing control of the epidemic,’ he argued. 

‘Many of our neighbours decided to lock down, like our German neighbours who have been locked down for four months. Our Italian friends are on their fourth lockdown.

‘With our collective choices we gained precious weeks of liberty, weeks of learning for our children, we allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their head above water, without losing control of the epidemic,’ he argued.  

The question in the coming days will be whether the new measures are enough to reverse the sharp rise in infections which have been running at more than 40,000 a day, double their level at the beginning of the month.

More than 53,000 new cases were announced late Wednesday, but that number covered two days after no numbers were made public on Tuesday.

The country also recorded 304 new deaths, bring its total toll to 95,667. 

Exhausted intensive care doctors and hospital directors have pleaded for a strict lockdown to stem the influx of new patients.

With warm weather and sunshine on Wednesday, groups of young people could be seen congregating in public spaces around Paris, ignoring rules barring the consumption of alcohol outside.

The French Hospitals Federation (FHF) urged Macron to order ‘a strict lockdown immediately’ on Wednesday. 

Earlier this month, Mr Macron refused to apologise for his country’s Coronavirus strategy, saying: ‘I can tell you that I have no mea culpa to offer, no remorse, no acknowledgement of failure.’ 

But the French president has been running out of options to stop the spread of the virus. All of France’s restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October. 

The new lockdown is a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.

A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.

‘The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals,’ government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.

After Paris hospital officials warned they would have to start refusing needy patients for lack of space, he said, ‘One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for any sick patients. Choosing patients is not an option.’  

Earlier this month, Mr Macron refused to apologise for his country’s Coronavirus strategy, saying: ‘I can tell you that I have no mea culpa to offer, no remorse, no acknowledgement of failure.’ 

The limited lockdown was imposed in 19 departments two weeks ago, including the greater Paris region, where some patients are being evacuated out of the capital city because of a lack of beds.

France is well behind countries such as Britain in its vaccine roll out, especially after a series of U-turns by Mr Macron over the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

He at first said it was not suitable for those over 65, before announcing that it should not be given to those under 55.

People gather on the Saone river banks in Lyon on March 31, 2021, before the start of the daily curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19

People gather on the Saone river banks in Lyon on March 31, 2021, before the start of the daily curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19

Macron was holding a weekly defence council meeting on the pandemic on Wednesday morning ahead of his address. 

A government source said options included a strict lockdown in hard-hit parts of France, school closures, and a massive operation to transfer patients from overloaded hospitals to lesser-hit regions.  

France’s National Council of the Order of Doctors had demanded another full shutdown, telling Macron in an open letter that ‘we must lock down’. 

‘Until we are massively vaccinated, wherever the situation is serious, we must confine ourselves,’ the letter said. 

Professor Philippe Juvin from Paris’s Georges Pompidou hospital said last week that a strict lockdown may be the only way to prevent a major healthcare crisis. 

Juvin told French TV that hospitals risked being overwhelmed to the point where they could neither treat Covid-19 patients nor others. 

‘The situation is critical,’ added Juvin, who is also the mayor of La Garenne-Colombes in the Paris region. 

Pictured: People in Nice enjoy the sunshine on Wednesday ahead of Macron's announcement

Pictured: People in Nice enjoy the sunshine on Wednesday ahead of Macron’s announcement

France added more than 30,000 new infections on Tuesday, taking the daily average to 38,902 – a figure which has jumped by more than 50 per cent in a fortnight. 

Meanwhile the death toll is nearing 100,000 and daily fatalities have climbed to nearly 350 per day. 

Ten days ago, the government closed non-essential stores and limited people’s movements in Paris and other regions ravaged by the virus.

Mobility data analysed by Reuters showed those measures were having markedly less impact than prior lockdowns.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo meawhile told BFM TV that schools should be closed, after ministers pointed to continued teaching as an improvement on the first lockdown. 

France also used medical evacuations to ease the load on hospitals during the first two waves, but there has been more resistance from families in recent weeks. 

Still, a government source said the evacuations under discussion would not require family consent.

France’s tightening of measures come just as Britain slowly emerges from the lockdown imposed by Boris Johnson in early January.

Macron had hoped France’s vaccine campaign would reduce the numbers falling gravely ill, but the vaccine rollout is still only now finding its stride. 

Only 12 per cent of the population has received a first dose, leaving the vast majority of French citizens still vulnerable to the disease. 

Macron has openly blamed the British variant for the resurgence, after scientists at the Institut Pasteur warned vaccines were coming too slowly to rein it in.   

A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Paris area to Biarritz airport as authorities look to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals

A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Paris area to Biarritz airport as authorities look to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals 

Pictured: President of the French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) and MP Marine Le Pen attends a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on March 30, 2021

Pictured: President of the French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) and MP Marine Le Pen attends a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on March 30, 2021

At stake in France’s current crisis is above all the health of nearly 70 million people and the fate of the eurozone’s second-biggest economy, but also Macron’s political future one year from presidential elections.

His handling of the twin health and economic crises caused by the pandemic will be foremost in voters’ minds next April and May, analysts say.

Acknowledging criticism from opponents, Macron said: ‘At every stage of this epidemic, we could say to ourselves that we could have done better, that we made mistakes. That’s all true.’

Stephane Zumsteeg, head of public opinion surveys at the Ipsos pollster in France, said voters would ultimately judge Macron’s performance based on a comparison of France with its EU neighbours.

And he underlined that polls still show the pro-business centrist as the frontrunner.

‘Of course lots of things can happen in the next year but at this point the main favourite for next year’s election is Emmanuel Macron, not because he’s the best or the most loved but because there’s no credible alternative other than Marine Le Pen.’

Britain’s Covid infection rate plunges below those in 25 EU nations thanks to the jab rollout success – as our cases fall by 28{540ccc4681f92a8237c705b0cdebbb9da373ec200da159e6cc1fd9f393be00be} in week to 4,052 and deaths halve to 43 

  • The UK’s successful vaccine rollout means it is now in the best position of all major European nations
  • Weekly infection rate in France, where intensive care units are overwhelmed, is around 8x higher than in UK
  • In Germany, which recorded 23,681 cases on March 30, the infection rate is nearly three times higher
  • Over the past week, the UK has recorded an average of 73 cases per one million people every day
  • Yesterday another 43 deaths and 4,052 cases were recorded. Deaths are now averaging 50 a day in Britain

Britain’s coronavirus infection rate is now significantly lower than 25 of the EU’s 27 countries – as the country’s daily Covid cases plunge by 28 per cent in a week, official figures revealed. 

The UK’s successful vaccine rollout means it is now in the best position of all major European nations, despite being the worst hit in January.

The weekly infection rate in France, where intensive care units are overwhelmed, is around eight times higher than in the UK.

In Germany, which recorded 23,681 cases on March 30, the infection rate is nearly three times higher. 

Over the past week, the UK has recorded an average of 73 cases per one million people every day. This is a lower rate than all 27 EU nations apart from Denmark and Portugal, which have both adopted strict lockdowns. 

Hungary, the worst affected EU nation, has a daily rate of 882 cases per one million.

In France it is 571, while the rate in the Netherlands is 449 and in Italy it is 334. As Europe battles a third wave, UK cases, deaths and hospitalisations have fallen to a six-month low.

On Wednesday, another 43 deaths and 4,052 cases were recorded. Deaths are now averaging 50 a day, down from a peak of 1,284 deaths on January 19. It also marked a 56 per cent week-on-week drop in deaths on last Wednesday. 

EU REGULATOR SAYS THERE’S ‘NO EVIDENCE’ TO BACK GERMAN ASTRAZENECA BAN FOR UNDER-60s

Europe’s medical watchdog slapped down Germany for suspending AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab after a small number of vaccinated people developed deadly brain clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said there was ‘no evidence’ to support halting the jab for people under 60, adding that the benefits of protecting against Covid far outweighed the risk of the extremely rare condition.

Analysis by the regulator found just 62 out of 9.1million people vaccinated with the British-made jab worldwide had developed the brain clot, known as cerebral sinus venous thrombosis — a rate of about five per million.

Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, told a press conference this afternoon there was no proof the vaccine had caused CSVT in any of the cases and admitted those people might have developed the condition regardless.

The EMA’s ruling puts the watchdog at odds with many other major EU member states which have also restricted the jab’s rollout in certain age groups, including France, Spain and Norway.

Cases of CSVT have been most common in Germany, where 31 out of 2.7million vaccinated people suffered the deadly brain clot – a rate of one in 90,000. It led to the nation banning the vaccine in under-60s last night.

The EMA revealed twice as many women had received AstraZenca’s vaccine in Europe than men, before adding that the people normally most at risk of CSVT are females aged 35 to 45, possibly explaining the higher rates.

Until recently Germany had banned the AZ jab for over-60s due to initial fears about blood clots, meaning its rollout had for weeks targeted those most susceptible to CSVT.

Ms Cooke said: ‘At present, the experts have advised us that they have not been able to identify specific risk factors, including age, gender or previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare events.

‘And, as I mentioned previously, a causal link of the vaccine has not yet been proven but it is possible, and further analysis is still ongoing. According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence to support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population.’

The contrasting fortunes of Britain and mainland Europe are largely down to our successful vaccination programme. Nearly six in ten adults in the UK have now received at least one dose.

But across the EU, just 11 per cent of the population have been vaccinated.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens is urging all over-50s and younger people with health conditions yet to be vaccinated to book an appointment now.

During April the NHS will focus on second doses but appointments for all over-50s not yet protected will also be available.

Yesterday, the number of second doses of Covid-19 vaccine outnumbered first doses for the first time.

A total of 270,526 second doses were registered on March 30, compared with 224,590 first doses, according to government figures. Previously the number of first jabs per day had always exceeded second jabs.

A total of 4.1million people in the UK are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, around one in 13 adults.

Sir Simon said: ‘We’re well on track to meet our April 15 goal of offering NHS Covid vaccination to everyone aged 50 and over, as well as other high risk groups.

‘In just the past two weeks we’ve now jabbed nearly 85 per cent of people aged 50-54, and over three million of the highest risk people have also now had their top up second dose.’

But last night Dr Yvonne Doyle, of Public Health England, warned: ‘As restrictions lift and the weather improves, we cannot drop our guard. We’re not out of the woods quite yet.’

She said: ‘There are still as many people in hospital now as there were at the start of the second wave, and tens of thousands of us are getting infected every week and may become seriously ill. 

‘As restrictions lift and the weather improves, we cannot drop our guard. We’re not out of the woods quite yet.’

She urged Britons to continue washing their hands, wearing facemasks and social distancing to stop coronavirus spreading, adding: ‘[Covid] case numbers are still high in certain places and looking forward they are certainly not predictable, so your actions are still saving lives.’ 

It came as police seized beer from revellers and poured it on the grass on Wednesday as Brits once again flocked to parks and beaches to enjoy 75F (24C) temperatures.

Hundreds of young people gathered at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham this afternoon with bottles of alcohol, despite officers saying yesterday that this would be seized from anyone entering parks in the city. 

And the officers stuck to their word as officials clamped down on anti-social behaviour in the city after large crowds broke the rules at Nottingham’s Arboretum on Monday, brawling and leaving huge amounts of litter. 

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick urged people to make the most the latest easing of restrictions in England in a ‘sensible, cautious’ manner, enjoying the sunshine but also being careful and sticking to the rules.  

Police officers confiscate alcohol at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham this afternoon

Police officers confiscate alcohol at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham this afternoon

Germany has reported significantly more cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) than other major European countries and the reasons for it are unclear. The UK has vaccinated five times as many people but seen just one sixth as many CSVT cases, while France, Italy and Spain used the AstraZeneca jab on similar age groups but also had much lower rates of CSVT. There is still no evidence the vaccine is causing the condition, experts say

Germany has reported significantly more cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT) than other major European countries and the reasons for it are unclear. The UK has vaccinated five times as many people but seen just one sixth as many CSVT cases, while France, Italy and Spain used the AstraZeneca jab on similar age groups but also had much lower rates of CSVT. There is still no evidence the vaccine is causing the condition, experts say

Several member states have paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a tiny number of inoculated people, predominantly women under 55, suffered deadly brain clots

Several member states have paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a tiny number of inoculated people, predominantly women under 55, suffered deadly brain clots

It comes after EU regulators slapped down Germany for suspending AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jab after a small number of vaccinated people developed deadly brain clots. 

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said there was ‘no evidence’ to support halting the jab for people under 60, adding that the benefits of protecting against Covid far outweighed the risk of the extremely rare condition.

Analysis by the regulator found just 62 out of 9.1million people vaccinated with the British-made jab worldwide had developed the brain clot, known as cerebral sinus venous thrombosis — a rate of about five per million.

Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, told a press conference this afternoon there was no proof the vaccine had caused CSVT in any of the cases and admitted those people might have developed the condition regardless.

Tourism bosses have also said that the UK’s successful jabs roll-out means it is safer for Britons to take summer holidays to more than 130 countries across the world.

A study commissioned by Manchester Airports Group says that most of Europe, the Caribbean, north Africa and the United States should be on the destination list. 

SHOULD PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD THE OXFORD JAB BE WORRIED?

The UK has used more doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine than anywhere else – approximately 11million – and both officials and scientists say there is no sign that it causes serious health problems.

Side effects are normal, and around 53,000 changes in health or feelings have been officially reported across the UK so far, but the vast majority are mild and short-lived, such as headaches, muscle pains or fever.

The 53,000 side effects out of 11million suggest just 0.5 per cent of people get them – one in 200. The frequency of severe side effects is much lower. But not everyone records their mild side effects and not all of those reported are linked to the vaccine, many just happen by coincidence after someone has received the jab.

British drugs regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which approved the vaccine, insists the jab is safe and says people should continue to take it.

Vaccine safety chief Dr Phil Bryan said: ‘We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause.

‘People should still go and get their Covid vaccine when asked to do so.’

The same message is being put out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government on its vaccine rollout.

Its deputy chairman Professor Anthony Harnden said on BBC Breakfast: ‘Safety is absolutely paramount and we monitor this data very carefully.

‘We have to remember that there are 3,000 blood clots a month on average in the general population and because we’re immunising so many people, we are bound to see blood clots at the same time as the vaccination, and that’s not because they are due to the vaccination. That’s because they occur naturally in the population.

‘One ought to also remember that Covid causes blood clots. So, the risks of not having the Covid vaccination far outweigh the risks from the vaccinations.’