On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron blamed COVID-19 for a combination of carelessness and misfortune, urging his countrymen to stay safe as critics called for errors in his behavior to prevent infection from nearby. Shake hands with frequent large group meals over the past week.
In what appeared to be a self-filmed video from the presidential resort in Versailles where he was suffering from symptoms including headache, fatigue and a dry cough, Macron promised to provide daily updates and to be “completely transparent” about the progression of his illness.
“I’m fine,” he said, speaking calmly and dressing in a casual high-collar shirt. “Usually, there is no reason for it to develop badly.”
The 42-year-old French leader said his infection “shows that the virus can really touch everyone, because I am very protected and I am very careful.”
He said: “Despite everything that infected me with this virus – perhaps, without a doubt, a moment of neglect, a moment of misfortune as well.”
Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic tested positive for the virus on Friday, a European leader who spent time with Macron at the European Union summit last week. Some of the other leaders present at the summit reported that the tests were negative, while others had not been tested and others did not announce their test results.
In France, Macron has faced criticism for measures seen as a bad example as the country sees a new spike 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 the rules of social distancing, and insists his virus strategy is driven by science, the president was caught on camera in recent days in violation of France’s anti-virus guidelines.
The head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Angel Gurria, shook hands and hugged him at a meeting on Monday. The two were masked, but Macron’s office acknowledged on Friday that the move was a “mistake”.
Last week, Macron spent two days in intense negotiations at the European Union summit in Brussels with leaders of 26 other member states. Video excerpts released by the European Union showed the leaders spread out in a circle in a huge conference room – Macron and most of the other leaders were not masked.
Macron also hosted or participated in several large group meals in the days leading up to testing positive on Thursday, including with members of his centrist party and rival politicians, while the French are currently advised to avoid gatherings of more than six people. His office was calling attendees for meals, but he told some of the people sitting further away from the president that they were not considered in danger.
Macron’s office does not provide details of his treatment. And he lives in the presidential residence at La Lantern in the former royal city of Versailles, in a grove under heavy police guard.
Macron’s positive test comes as French health authorities are once again seeing a spike in infections and warning of more as French families prepare to meet at Christmas and New Year celebrations. France reported 18,254 new infections on Thursday, and the death toll was just under 60,000.
The French Pasteur Institute released a study Friday indicating that meal times at home and in public places are a major source of pollution. Pasteur’s epidemiologist, Arnaud Fontane, said on Radio France-Inter on Friday, “We can see each other, we simply won’t be very much, and at critical moments in meals, there are not many people at the same table.”
The presidency said Macron took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared” on Thursday morning and would self-isolate for seven days, in line with recommendations of the national health authorities. Macron plans to continue working, and went ahead with a planned video address Thursday.
The French health minister indicated that Macron may have been infected at the European Union summit in Brussels last week, but Macron held multiple meetings in Paris as well.
France had its first case of the virus in Europe in January, but Macron’s government has come under fire for not having enough masks or tests and for not restricting the population quickly enough. A strict two-month lockdown has reduced infections, France put children back in school and their parents back to work.
But infections rose again this fall, so he announced a new, softer lockdown in October to ease the pressure on hospitals. Procedures were eased slightly this week, although restaurants, tourist sites, gyms and some other facilities remain closed.
Leicester report from Le Beek, France. Karel Janicek in Prague, Kathryn Jashka in Paris and Rave Cassette in Brussels contributed.