Macron vs Omicron: Leader wary of pandemic fatigue among French voters

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 supporters worry he will lose his position. leadership as infections with the Omicron variant peaked and the public grew weary of the two-year-old crisis.

“We are at the point where people are fed up with restrictions. Things could go badly for him,” said a French industrialist who supported Macron in 2017 and wants him to win again in elections in April. “They think the situation is no longer worthy of restrictions.”

With Macron preparing to officially declare himself a candidate for re-election, his government is struggling to limit the strained pressure on hospitals from Covid patients, while also responding to popular requests. to ease restrictions put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday announced that some Covid regulations will be relaxed next month, although new confirmed infections are running at more than 400,000 a day, according to health ministry data. .

Until recently, voters were broadly supportive of Macron’s handling of the pandemic. The coronavirus emergency in early 2020 pushed the anti-government camp aside “Gilets jaunes” The protests have shaken his presidency. After initial missteps about mask availability and testing, the president was hailed for a program to financially aid workers and businesses and decided to keep the schools open after the first batch.

His bet was last summer to push vaccinations through “health cards,” with proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test required to enter public places. , has also paid off. According to a study by Researchers at Bruegel and the French Council for Economic Analysis.

A sign outside Nice restaurant asking customers to have their vaccine cards ready when they enter

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

The government has since converted the license to a “vaccination card”, with negative testing no longer accepted and following Macron’s statement this month that he wanted to “Infuriate the unvaccinated”more than 1m away everyone made their first stab.

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

The devastation Omicron has caused to the French school system has added to public discontent, with teachers and parents complaining about complicated regulations on testing and isolation. As Macron stated vision for the future of the EU in a speech in Strasbourg this week, his government is trying to defuse anger, introduce medical masks and relax testing and quarantine regimes.

A protest by teachers’ unions on Thursday following a strike last week saw about 80,000 people gather at protests across the country. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer was forced to apologize for going on holiday in Ibiza at the end of December – even though he broke no rules – after critics said his actions were proof of the government’s chaotic handling of school safety procedures when students return in January.

Ifop recently poll shows that public confidence in the government’s ability to fight the pandemic has dropped 9 percentage points to 41% since early December. Macron’s popularity overall has dropped 4 points since November. with 40% having a favorable view of his achievements, according to a January 12 poll from Ipsos.

French students take part in a protest called by a union of teachers to protest the impact of the Omicron rules on education

French students take part in a protest called by teacher unions to protest the impact of the Omicron rules on education © Clement Mahoudeau / AFP / Getty Images

Political analyst Chloé Morin said: “Going back to school after the Christmas holidays is a mess and upsetting for many people – all of which is to blame for the overall exhaustion of the crisis. health crisis,” said political analyst Chloé Morin.

But analysts say Omicron’s political impact is hard to predict. Infections and hospitalizations are still increasing, but the number of daily intensive care admissions fell about 6% last week compared with the previous week.

“In Macron’s camp, they hope that in three weeks or so, the current wave will end and people will be in a better mood, and when spring comes, they will forget all this.” Morin said. “But it’s also possible that there’s another variation or another variation that ruins things all over 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 its protocols in response to the pandemic. If they continue with very restrictive policies, it will probably hit them eventually.”

Omicron has also drawn attention away from issues like immigration and crime that have dominated debates since last summer. Valerie Pecresseconservative presidential candidate Les Républicains, and two far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmourhave struggled to move the agenda back to their preferred pitch.

Macron is polling about 25% of intent to vote in the first round, compared with 18% for Le Pen, 16% for Pécresse and 11.5% for Zemmour, according to recent Ifop investigations.

Even if Covid fatigue doesn’t take away Macron’s advantage in the coming weeks, he will face other headwinds.

The issue that sparked the gilets jaunes protests back in 2018 – the cost of vehicle fuel – has returned to haunt the government as rising oil prices sent fuel costs to their highest levels in more than a decade. Meanwhile, a lack of gas throughout Europe have increased the cost of heating in homes.

Macron responded to voters’ concerns by announcing extra spending on law enforcement and capping this year’s increase in household electricity bills to 4%. revenue raid of the state-controlled energy conglomerate EDF.

He’s also trying to keep Pécresse – as polls show as his favorite dangerous opponent if both make it to the second round – unbalance by highlighting differences among her LR supporters on everything from the vaccine mandate to France’s role in the EU.

The volatility has made even seasoned political observers wary of predicting Macron’s chances. “He leads in the polls,” said Morin, “but not without.”

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