By Faith Barbara Namagembe Updated at 0800 EAT on 5 January 2022
French President Emmanuel Macron has warned he intends to make life difficult for people in France who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“I really want to hassle them, and we will continue to do this – to the end,” he told France’s Le Parisien newspaper.
But political opponents said the strong language he used in the interview was not worthy of a president.
His comments came as a bill on Covid passes was delayed by opposition MPs uniting against the government.
A debate in parliament on the bill, which would bar the unvaccinated from much of public life, was prevented from continuing after midnight.
The legislation was expected to be approved in a vote this week, but it has angered vaccine opponents and several French MPs have said they have received death threats over the issue.
In his interview with Le Parisien on Tuesday, Mr Macron said that while he would not “vaccinate by force”, he hoped to encourage people to get jabbed by “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.
“I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison,” he said. “So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
The language Mr Macron used about hassling or annoying the unvaccinated is considered to be slang and prompted a strong reaction from opposition politicians.
“No health emergency justifies such words,” said Bruno Retailleau, Senate leader of the right-wing Republicans, quoted by AFP.
“Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them.”
Far-right leader Marine le Pen tweeted: “A president shouldn’t say that… Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”
Meanwhile leftist politician Jean-Luc Melenchon described the remarks as an “astonishing confession”.
“It is clear, the vaccination pass is a collective punishment against individual freedom,” he added.
France has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the EU, with more than 90% of the adult population double-jabbed.
For months France has asked people to show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to access many public venues.
But the French government wants to remove the option to show a negative test in response to record increases in infections, driven by the highly contagious Omicron and Delta variants of Covid.
On Tuesday, the country reported 271,686 new daily Covid cases – the highest number of daily infections recorded in France since the start of the pandemic.
Mr Macron is still yet to formally declare he will run for a second term in April’s presidential elections, but told Le Parisien in Tuesday’s interview that he wanted to and will clarify his decision “once the health situation allows it”.