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France’s Macron blames his COVID-19 on negligence and bad luck

French President Emmanuel Macron attends by a conference by video Thursday.
Ailing French President Emmanuel Macron attends by a conference by video in Paris on Thursday.
(Charles Platiau / Pool Photo)

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 last week.

In what looked like a self-shot video from the presidential retreat in Versailles where he was isolating, 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.”

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

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

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

President Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus and spent three days at Walter Reed Medical Center in early October, spoke with 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, 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.

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

A South Korean study raises concerns that six feet of social distance may not be far enough to keep people safe from the coronavirus.

He shook hands with and half-embraced the head of the Organization 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 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,” 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.”

French police search the homes of the former prime minister and other top officials in an investigation of the government response to the coronavirus.

Last week, Macron spent two days in intense negotiations at the EU summit in Brussels with the leaders of the other 26 EU countries. Video excerpts released by the EU showed the leaders spread out in a circle in a huge meeting room. Macron, like most of the other leaders, was 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. People in France are currently advised to avoid gathering in groups of more than six. Macron’s office has been contacting those present for the meals, but told some people who sat far from him that they are not considered at risk.

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.

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 18,254 new infections Thursday and a death toll just under 60,000.

France’s Pasteur Institute released a study Friday suggesting that mealtimes at home and in public are a major source of contamination.

Pasteur epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet said on France-Inter radio 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.”

A coronavirus outbreak among vacationing youths in western France is crystallizing fears that the epidemic is flaring again in the country.

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 president’s office said. He plans to continue working, and went ahead with a planned speech by videoconference Thursday.

The French health minister suggested 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 coronavirus 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, leading Macron to declare 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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