On New Year’s Eve, Emmanuel Macron promised France an economic revival by the Spring. Cancel that. Instead, as the intensive care units are saturated by a third wave of Covid, we have a new lockdown light and a new message from the president: ‘Don’t panic.’
More than a year after Macron the general took personal command of the war on the new coronavirus, the vaccination program has still to get into high gear, the doctors are threatening to triage patients, abandoning those with little hope, yet there was no hint of contrition from the president.
Instead, he announced that we are to be subjected to yet another baffling set of rules which together comprise a sort of ‘confinement,’ although Macron never used the word.
Macron is said to have held at bay the ‘enfermistes’ urging a tighter lockdown. Relying on his own instincts as an autodidact epidemiologist, he has decided on a bouquet of measures, including a temporary shutdown of schools and limitations on travel and non-essential commerce. It’s hard to see how this can make much difference, but perhaps it’s intended to be mostly theatrical. Something must be done, this is something.
Insisting that the French ‘mustn’t panic, we’ve not lost control,’ he promised more intensive care beds, more remote working and more benefits to small businesses and those on furlough. So, no economic recovery in immediate view.
The fiasco of the European vaccine procurement was conspicuously unmentioned. But it seems that Macron has finally twigged that vaccines will ultimately be the only way out for France and perhaps his own political career, with a presidential election a year away. ‘Vacciner, vacciner, vacciner,’ said Macron, suddenly unequivocal. ‘They work,’ he said.
He acknowledged delays in vaccination but promised that in weeks to come the vaccinations will accelerate. From 16 April, vaccines will be available for everyone over 60. By 15 May, for those over 50. And by mid June, everyone else. Teachers and police will get priority. Even veterinarians will be enlisted in the army of jabbers, Macron promised.
Macron was fluent this evening and while he may be, as his father says, a great seducer, it’s clear he remains months away from beating back the virus or convincing the voters that he’s on top of this.
While he made the traditional appeals for solidarity and responsibility, French people are increasingly fed up with the restrictions on their lives. As the weather improves, even 90,000 police may find it hard to keep them locked down.
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Jonathan Miller tweets @lefoudubaron