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Macron on the brink: ‘Panicked’ French leader attacked over ‘failed’ vaccine rollout

Emmanuel Macron provides update from COVID-19 isolation

Dr Joseph Downing, an LSE Fellow in Nationalism at the LSE’s European Institute, believes Mr Macron will inevitably carry the can for his country’s perceived failures given his status as the country’s President, regardless of whether he is specifically to blame. Mr Macron’s woes are neatly encapsulated in a league table published by Our World in Data, indicating an inoculation rate of 0.6 per 100 people as of yesterday.

For comparison, England’s rate was 5.6 almost 10 times higher as of January 14, while in Israel the figure was 25.34, as of yesterday.

Also as of yesterday, 388,370 people in France had received the vaccine from a country with a population of just over 65 million.

In the UK, the figure for January 14 was 3.68 million out of a country with a population of 67.89 million.

Dr Downing told Express.co.uk: “There are two things here which are problems for him.

“One is the united European vaccine rollout, which I think has not gone down well, especially because Germany and Hungary have jumped the gun anyway.

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“The fact that Germany would jump the gun just makes it look ridiculous, and it looks ridiculous already because surely this is not the time for bureaucratic unity, it’s the time to get injections to people as soon as possible.

“The second thing is that one of the biggest myths French people tell themselves that feeds into this myth of national pride – and when I say myth I don’t mean it doesn’t exist, I am just saying the narrative that they tell themselves – is that they have got the best health care system in the world.”

Dr Downing said there was no doubt France did have a good health system – but the slow deployment of the vaccine was extremely damaging to Mr Macron and his Government.

He said: “It is really making him look horrible, especially when, at the same time, they are bringing in earlier and earlier curfews.”

In the southern city of Marseille, for instance, a 6pm curfew was in force – even though no bars or restaurants were open anyway.

All the curfew means in practice, therefore, was that people had less time to do practical things such as getting their groceries, Dr Downing said.

He explained: “So he is looking repressive for the sake of being repressive without being backed up by much medical sense.

“In the middle of winter, to have a curfew at 6pm does not seem logical.

“With the vaccine rollout, on a Europe-wide level they are somewhere near the bottom in terms of the number of people vaccinated – it’s ridiculous.

“Even ex-eastern bloc countries like Poland have vaccinated a lot of people.”

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The fact that Macron has got it so wrong at the same time as being seen as the right-wing reformist figure, I think is disastrous

Dr Joseph Downing

No democratic leader has come out of Covid with all that much credit, be they Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or whoever, Dr Downing suggested.

However, he added: “Now is the time to make some sort of amends and political capital out of the situation.

“The most important thing to get right now is this vaccine roll-out.

“And the fact that Macron has got it so wrong at the same time as being seen as the right-wing reformist figure, I think is disastrous.”

Mr Macron’s problems were exacerbated by the fact that, as French President, he had significantly more power than for example the UK Prime Minister, Dr Downing pointed out.

He said: “All stops being pulled out in the UK in massive vaccination effort.

“I do not see that in France. Gyms are not being commandeered, why is the French army not being brought in to help with this?

“It staggers me, I don’t have an answer. You can blame bureaucracy but he is the executive so it is not as if he cannot put measures in.

“It is not as if this no surprise. All democratic leaders can write off their failures in the early stages of the pandemic to shock, didn’t see this coming etc. It is a reasonable excuse.

“But we have known this was coming for six to nine months, with the vaccine.

“I am shocked – I cannot believe that we are seeing such a failure. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

It was therefore inevitable that fingers were now being pointed in the direction of the 41-year-old, Dr Downing acknowledged, and not without reason.

He said: “To some extent, he has to carry the can, and it doesn’t matter within the set-up of the political system he is responsible or not.

“People are not going to judge him based on that. He is going to be judged on performance.

“Whether or not it is his fault, in reality, it is the perception, especially given the perception at the beginning that he did not make a good job of it.”

Mr Macron was looking “panicked” because he is up for re-election next year, having defeated Marine Le Pen of National Rally in 2017,Dr Downing claimed.

Dr Downing added: “That is the advantage that someone like Johnson, or Biden, has, that they have a few more years before another election arrives, when Covid will have faded somewhat.

“He is completely bungling the thing which will be the most important issue for the election.

“What else can happen that could surpass this? I can’t see anything else arising which people will see as more important than this, especially given that Macron is already seen as not dealing with this situation particularly well.”

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