PARIS: In this file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron (left) welcomes European Council president Charles Michel prior to a meeting marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the OECD at the Elysee Palace in Paris. – AFP

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron yesterday tested positive for COVID-19, the presidency said, sending at least two fellow leaders as well as other top French officials into self-isolation. He is one of several world leaders who have contracted COVID-19, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump. Macron was tested after the “onset of the first symptoms” and will now, in accordance with national regulations, “self-isolate for seven days,” his office said in a statement.

“He will continue to work and carry out his activities remotely.” The result comes at a tricky time for Macron as he seeks to handle the pandemic crisis in the own country while keeping a close eye on talks for a Brexit trade deal and a host of other international issues. Macron had notably attended an EU summit in Brussels last week and also on Monday was personally present at a conference in Paris organized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, who was also present in Paris for that meeting, has entered self-isolation, his spokesman said. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who was also there, is going into quarantine, his office said. As result of the diagnosis, a trip next week by Macron to Lebanon-where the president had been pressing for far-reaching political change after the giant Beirut port explosion in August-has been cancelled, his office said.

‘Defeat pandemic together’
French Prime Minister Jean Castex will self-isolate after contact with Macron, his office said. It said the premier shows no symptoms but will no longer be going to the French Senate yesterday to outline his government’s vaccine strategy to combat COVID-19. Macron’s wife Brigitte will also be self-isolating but also shows no symptoms, her office said. Parliament speaker Richard Ferrand is also self-isolating after contact with Macron, his office said.

Fellow world leaders rushed to wish Macron a speedy recovery. “Sorry to hear my friend @EmmanuelMacron has tested positive for coronavirus. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery,” tweeted Johnson, who has locked horns with Macron in recent months over the Brexit talks. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said she was with Macron “with all my heart”. “We are going to defeat this pandemic together,” she said on Twitter. “We will continue to work hand in hand to immunize and protect our citizens.”

Infections still high
France earlier this week eased restrictions imposed to battle the second wave of the coronavirus but infection rates remain high. There is still a nationwide overnight curfew from 8 pm to halt the spread of the virus while restaurants and cafes as well as theatres and cinemas remain closed. Over 59,300 people have died in France of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures. The recording of over 17,000 new cases on Wednesday alone has also generated concern as people shop and travel more intensely ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Like other EU states, France is pinning its hopes on a vaccine to quell the virus and Castex said Wednesday the country will receive around 1.16 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by year end. Castex said that the start of the vaccine campaign was conditional on approval from the European Medicines Agency, expected on December 21.

“It is only at the end of spring that we will open the vaccination program to the entire population”, he added. Von der Leyen said yesterday that the EU would start inoculations on December 27. Another problem for the French authorities is that according to an opinion poll, only 53 percent of people want to be vaccinated, among the lowest rates in the world. – AFP