Mon. May 23rd, 2022

Emmanuel Macron’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has put him in a strong position to win a second term as France’s president – but fans are worried he will lose his lead as infections with the Omicron variant peak and the public gets tired of the two-year-old crisis.

“We are at the tipping point where people are now tired of restrictions. Things can go bad for him, “said one French industrialist who supported Macron in 2017 and wants him to win the April election again. “They think the situation no longer deserves the restrictions.”

With Macron preparing to officially declare himself a candidate for re-election, his government is struggling to curb the intense pressure on Covid patients’ hospitals, while meeting popular demands for the restrictions imposed on the spread of the virus. to control, to alleviate.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday that some Covid rules will be relaxed next month, although newly confirmed infections amount to more than 400,000 a day, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

Until recently, voters broadly supported Macron’s handling of the pandemic. The coronavirus emergency in early 2020 set the anti-government aside “yellow jackets” protests that shook his presidency. After early missteps over the availability of masks and tests, the president was praised for a financial aid program for workers and businesses and the decision to keep schools open after the first wave.

His bet last summer to promote vaccination through a “health pass,” with evidence of immunization or a recent negative Covid-19 test needed to gain access to public places, also paid off. It encouraged millions more to accept the sample, which saved 4,000 lives and € 6 billion in economic activity, according to a study by researchers at Bruegel and the French Council for Economic Analysis.

A sign outside a Nice restaurant asks customers to have their vaccine tickets ready when they enter

A sign outside a Nice restaurant asks customers to have their vaccine tickets ready when they enter © Eric Gaillard / Reuters

The government has since turned the permit into a “vaccine pass”, with a negative test no longer accepted, following Macron’s statement this month that he wanted to “piss off the unvaccinated”, a further 1 million people took their first stabs.

However, that deliberately provocative remark prompted critics to revive accusations that Macron was arrogant and dismissed the concerns of ordinary people.

The devastation Omicron has played with France’s school system has contributed to public discontent, with teachers and parents complaining about complex rules about testing and isolation. As Macron presented his vision for the future of the EU in a speech this week in Strasbourg, his government tried to calm the anger, hand out medical-grade masks and ease the test and quarantine regime.

A protest by teachers’ unions on Thursday followed a strike last week in which about 80,000 people gathered at nationwide rallies. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has been forced to apologize for taking a holiday in Ibiza at the end of December – even though he did not break any rules – after critics said his actions were evidence of the government’s chaotic handling of school safety protocols when pupils returned in January.

A recent Ifop poll public confidence in the government’s ability to fight the pandemic has fallen by nine percentage points to 41 percent since early December. Macron’s overall popularity has fallen by four points since November, with 40 percent having a favorable view of its record, according to a January 12 poll by Ipsos.

French schoolchildren join a rally called by teachers' unions to protest the impact of Omicron rules on education

French schoolchildren join a rally called by teachers’ unions to protest the impact of Omicron rules on education © Clement Mahoudeau / AFP / Getty Images

“The return to school after the Christmas holidays was a mess and irritated many people – all in addition to the general exhaustion of the health crisis,” said political analyst Chloé Morin.

But analysts say the political impact of Omicron is difficult to predict. Infections and hospitalizations continue to increase, but daily intensive care admissions were about 6 percent lower last week compared to the previous week.

“In the Macron camp, they hope the current wave will be over in three weeks or so and people will be in a better mood, and as spring arrives, they will forget it all,” Morin said. “But it is also possible that there is another twist or another variant that is ruining things again.”

Vincent Martigny, a professor of politics at the University of Nice, said Macron’s chances “will depend on how people react to Omicron and whether the government changes the protocols for dealing with the pandemic.” If they continue with very restrictive policies, it could eventually hit them. ”

Omicron also drew attention away from issues such as immigration and crime that have dominated the debate since last summer. Valerie Pécresse, presidential candidate for the conservative Les Républicains, and the two far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, struggled to shift the agenda back to their favorite terrain.

Macron votes for about 25 percent of first-round voting intentions, compared to 18 percent for Le Pen, 16 percent for Pécresse and 11.5 percent for Zemmour, according to recent Ifop recordings.

Even if Covid’s fatigue fails to erode Macron’s advantage in the coming weeks, he faces other winds.

The issue that caused the gilets jaunes protests in 2018 – the cost of vehicle fuel – has returned to haunt the government as rising oil prices send fuel costs to the highest level in more than a decade. Meanwhile, a gas shortage across Europe, the cost of home heating has increased.

Macron responded to voters’ concerns by announcing extra spending on law enforcement and limiting the rise in household electricity bills to 4 percent this year by the income is affected of the state-owned energy group EDF.

He also tries to keep Pécresse – which according to opinion polls is his best dangerous competitor if they both reach the second round – out of balance by highlighting the differences between her LR supporters on everything from vaccine mandates to France’s role in the EU.

The volatility has left even seasoned political observers wary of predicting Macron’s chances. “He is at the forefront of the polls,” Morin said, “but not untouchable.”

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