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A crappy choice of words? Macron under fire for his warning to France’s unvaccinated

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a Dec. 9 news conference in Paris.
(Ludovic Marin / Pool Photo)

French President Emmanuel Macron has provoked outcries in Parliament and from election rivals by using a vulgarity to describe his strategy for pressuring holdouts to get their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Macron used the French word “emmerder,” rooted in the French word for “crap” and meaning “to rile” or “to bug,” in an interview published by French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday night. The president made the salty remark as lawmakers debate new measures that would allow only the vaccinated to enjoy leisure activities such as dining out.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to bug them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” Macron was quoted as saying in a sit-down interview at the presidential palace with a panel of Le Parisien readers.

His use of earthy language more commonly heard at the counters of French cafes further complicated the already difficult passage in Parliament of the government’s planned new vaccine pass. Lawmakers debated into early Wednesday before their discussions were again suspended, disrupted by the furor over Macron’s remarks.

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The vaccine pass will exclude unvaccinated individuals from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses and on domestic flights.

Opposition lawmakers protested in the National Assembly chamber as Macron’s health minister, Olivier Veran, sought to defend the president’s choice of words.

The staff is tired, the Omicron variant is spreading and the intensive care unit is filling up at the biggest hospital in Marseille, France.

Veran said Macron’s interview demonstrated his “intention, above all, to protect the population.”

Critics accused Macron of behavior unbecoming a president and of targeting the unvaccinated to win support from the 90% of French adults who are fully vaccinated. Opposition lawmaker Sebastien Jumel said Macron “deliberately chose to add hysteria to the debate.”

Macron is facing reelection in April.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who opposed the vaccine pass proposal, said the president wants “to wage war against a portion of the French.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that psychology appointments in France will be funded by the government starting next year.

Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, accused Macron of “cruelty.” On the far left, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon asked: “Is the president in control of what he says?”

Macron’s supporters suggested the president simply expressed out loud what some vaccinated people already think about the unvaccinated in a country with bitter divides over the issue.

France reported a record 271,686 daily coronavirus cases Tuesday as Omicron infections race across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transportation, schools and other services.

Macron’s government is straining to avoid a new, economically damaging lockdown that could hurt his reelection prospects. Ministers are instead trying to rush the vaccine pass bill through Parliament in hopes that it will be enough to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the country’s infection rates.

COVID-19 patients fill more than 72% of France’s intensive care unit beds, and its once-renowned healthcare system is again showing signs of strain. Most coronavirus patients in ICUs are not vaccinated against the disease, although 77% of the French population has had at least two doses.


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