PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for coronavirus and will work in isolation next week, prompting other European leaders he met to take precautions and complicating Europe’s efforts to overcome a second wave of pandemic.
The Elysée presidential palace announced the disease on Thursday without clarifying Mr Macron’s symptoms or the severity of his condition. Being one of the youngest European leaders, at 42, the president is not among the most vulnerable to the virus, but it is known that its effects are unpredictable. How open the presidential office will be regarding its state as it evolves remains an open question.
Gabriel Attal, a government spokesman, said: “Last night, the president began to feel symptoms similar to Covid-19. He immediately isolated himself and underwent a PCR test. The result was communicated to us this morning. He added that efforts are being made to track contacts to identify anyone who has recently met with Mr Macron.
The Spanish government has announced that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who had lunch with Mr Macron on Monday, has suspended official activities until December 24. In Portugal, Prime Minister António Costa, who dined with Mr Macron on Tuesday, said he was isolating himself and taking the test for Covid-19. Charles Michel, a senior European Union official, will go into solitary confinement after a meeting with Mr Macron on Monday, a spokesman said.
How Mr. Macron contracted the virus is a mystery. Other world leaders who had him – including President Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – were more knighted or skeptical about the pandemic. However, Mr Macron was consistent in emphasizing the seriousness of the threat.
In the past, France has been reluctant to reveal details about its president’s health. The cancer that took François Mitterrand’s life, for example, was mentioned only in silence, if not. The august aura of the presidency was seen as incompatible with the detailing of bodily functions. But as president of modernization, Mr Macron may want a transparent approach.
Mr Macron, in an apparent attempt to reassure people, made his first public appearance after giving positive results at a planned conference on French development aid late on Thursday. Speaking via video link and wearing a medical mask, he showed no apparent signs of the disease and did not mention it in his speech.
The cascade of isolating leaders came at a difficult time. Europeans across the continent are passionate about restrictive measures that have become a tiring way of life. Six weeks after the second blockade, a cover came into force on Tuesday at 20:00. It will take at least another month.
Christmas lights shine over the ghostly streets of Paris, where all restaurants are closed. The holiday season will be a pale shadow of it. In a world capital of gastronomy, people are reduced to taking sandwiches on the city benches.
Mr Macron will celebrate his 43rd birthday in isolation on December 21. His wife, Brigitte Macron, 67, tested negative for the virus. It also works in isolation.
The partial disappearance of the vision of several leaders is likely to exacerbate anxiety on a continent facing the worst recession since World War II. Millions of people have been investigated. The French economy, the second largest in the eurozone, is expected to decline by 9% this year.
Billions of euros have been spent to cushion the devastating effect of the virus, but the prospects for a speedy recovery have disappeared as the number of cases in Europe has risen to new heights this autumn. The French central bank said on Monday that economic activity will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022. Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are among the countries that have recently imposed blockades.
The French weekly Le Point reported that Mr Macron dined on Wednesday night at the Elysée Palace with a dozen political allies, all socially distant from each other at a long table and wearing masks, except when they were eating. The government has advised no more than six people to gather around the table during the holidays. At the table, Mr. Macron showed no symptoms, participants said.
The president’s approval rating was about 38%, relatively high for a French leader. It dropped by up to 24% in 2018. Its harsh responses on issues such as security, jihadist terrorist threats and immigration reflected the mood of a significant section of an affected country.
It was unclear whether he would now gain a boost of sympathy for his condition or see his concern about a political vacuum affecting his popularity. The next presidential election is 18 months away.
“This will allow Macron to have more weight and authority in getting people to follow the rules of the blockade,” said Jaques Rupnik, a prominent political scientist. “The second wave was very difficult for many people to swallow. It could also strengthen its message about vaccination in a country where only a small majority trust the vaccine. “
Hopes for better times are invested in a vaccine. Prime Minister Jean Castex, who will also work in isolation after attending the cabinet’s weekly meeting with Mr Macron on Wednesday, announced this week that vaccinations would begin in the last week of the year.
France is expected to receive a first shipment of 1.16 million doses by then, after European and French authorities approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But the vaccine will not be an immediate panacea.
Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 2.4 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in France and more than 59,000 deaths, among the lowest figures in Europe. New cases average about 12,000 a day. The number of patients in intensive care has dropped to about 2,900 since the second blockage, compared with almost 5,000 a month ago, but this has not been enough to avoid imposing a holiday leave.
Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder from Madrid, Liz Alderman, Constant Meheut and Aurelien Breeden from Paris and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.