French President Emmanuel Macron has provoked an outcry in parliament after using a swear word to describe his strategy for pressuring the unvaccinated to get coronavirus jabs.
Mr Macron used the French word “emmerder” – rooted in the French word for “crap” and meaning to rile or to bug – in an interview published by Le Parisien, as parliament debated new measures that will allow only the vaccinated to enjoy leisure activities such as eating out.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to bug them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” Le Parisien quoted the French leader as saying in an interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of its readers.
The explosive use of earthy language more commonly heard at the counter of French cafes further complicated the already difficult passage in parliament of the government’s planned new vaccine pass.
It will exclude the unvaccinated from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and domestic flights.
Opposition lawmakers protested audibly as Mr Macron’s health minister, Olivier Veran, sought to defend the president’s choice of words. The heated parliamentary debate dragged into early Wednesday morning and was then again suspended.
Mr Veran said Mr Macron’s interview demonstrated his “intention, above all, to protect the population”.
Critics accused Mr Macron of behaviour unbecoming a president and of targeting the unvaccinated to win support from the 90% of French adults who are fully vaccinated.
Mr Macron is facing re-election in April.
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who opposes the vaccine pass proposal, said the president wants “to wage war against a portion of the French”.
Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, accused Nr Macron of “cruelty”.
On the far left, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon asked: “Is the president in control of what he says?”
Mr Macron’s supporters suggested the president simply expressed out loud what some vaccinated people already think about the unvaccinated, in a country with bitter divides over the issue.
France reported a record-smashing 271,686 daily cases on Tuesday as Omicron infections race across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transport, schools and other services.
Mr Macron’s government is straining to avoid a new economically damaging lockdown that could hurt his re-election prospects.
Ministers are instead trying to rush the vaccine pass Bill through parliament in the hope that it will be enough to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
More than 20,000 people are in hospital with Covid-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the country’s infection rates.
Covid patients fill more than 72% of France’s intensive care unit beds, and its healthcare system is again showing signs of strain.
Most virus patients in ICUs are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, though 77% of the French population has had at least two doses.