French President Macron blames Covid-19 infection on negligence, bad luck

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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 with symptoms that included headaches, fatigue and a dry cough, Macron promised to give daily updates and be “totally transparent” about the evolution of his illness.

“I wanted to reassure you – I am doing fine. I have the same symptoms as yesterday, notably fatigue, headaches, a dry cough,” he said, speaking softly and dressed casually in a turtleneck top. The president said he would “be back soon” and added there was “no reason to believe this will develop badly”, while adding he was under medical supervision.

“I am working at a slightly slower pace because of the virus, but I shall continue to focus on high-priority issues, such as our handling of the epidemic, or, for example, the Brexit dossier,” Macron said in a video posted on Twitter and other social media platforms.

The 42-year-old French leader 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.

Other European leaders test positive too

A fellow European leader who spent time with Macron at an EU summit last week, Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic, tested positive for the virus Friday. Some other leaders present at the summit reported testing negative, while some were not getting tested and others haven’t yet announced results from their tests.

In France, Macron faced criticism for actions that were seen as setting a bad example as the country sees a new uptick in confirmed cases and doctors warn families to take precautions this holiday season — especially at the dinner table.

While Macron usually wears a mask and adheres to social distancing rules, and has insisted that his virus strategy is driven by science, the president 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".

Last week, 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.

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.

Isolating in Versailles

Macron 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. His wife Brigitte, who has tested negative, will remain at the Élysée palace in Paris.

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. On Friday France recorded a further 264 deaths from Covid-19, bringing the country's death toll from the virus to more than 60,000. An additional 15,674 cases were reported over the past 24 hours.

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 Macron might have been infected at the EU summit in Brussels last week, but Macron had multiple meetings in Paris as well.

France had Europe’s first virus case in January, but 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.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)