Macron’s handling of the devastating omicron wave is causing despair in France – and massive protests. The timing of the strikes is fatal for the President. In three months, France will elect a new head of government, but now a problem is growing for the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron: Omicron. The corona variant ensures record numbers of new infections, it now accounts for three quarters of the cases. The seven-day incidence is more than 3,050 as of January 15, while 25 percent of the population remains unvaccinated. It is not to be expected that the proportion of unvaccinated citizens will decrease. On the contrary: it could rise again. Because from today’s Saturday, stricter rules for vaccination will apply in France: Anyone whose injection was seven months ago now needs a booster in order to continue to be considered vaccinated. According to the Ministry of Health, around 560,000 people are at risk of losing their vaccination status.
The stricter rules have been in effect for people over 65 since mid-December. The health card complies with the 3G rule and must be shown in France to get into bars or theatres, for example. In a few days, those who have not been vaccinated will also be banned from accessing cultural institutions, restaurants and long-distance trains if the legislative proposal is approved in parliament at the weekend.
Massive protests against Corona policy in schools
This new regulation is not the only one with which President Macron has drawn the anger of hundreds of thousands of citizens. The omicron variant, which probably causes milder courses but is significantly more contagious than previous mutants, is currently affecting one important system in particular: the school system. “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer tried to placate the population on Friday. The day before, the anger of many teachers and parents had erupted in one of the largest school protests that France has seen in recent years. Around 78,000 people took to the streets, and around 75 percent of primary school teachers took part in the strike, according to union information. However, it was not about relaxing the measures, as is the case with the Corona protests in this country, but about confusing rules. “Fatigue and despair across the education community has reached unprecedented levels,” read a joint statement from 11 school unions. “We were so desperate, tired and angry that we had no choice but to organize a strike to send a strong message to the government,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno of teachers’ union SE-UNSA.
The anger in the country is growing
“Blanquer in quarantine” was read on posters by demonstrators on Thursday. “The government announces rules without thinking about what that means in practice,” said Olivier Flipo, a school principal in Val-d’Oise. The anger in the country is growing – and Macron’s government must answer. Protests in France: The corona rules in schools are constantly being adjusted and causing confusion. (Source: imago images)
Specifically, it is about the fact that the Corona regulations for schools have been changed several times since the end of the Christmas holidays alone. “The responsibility of the minister and the government in this chaotic situation is total because the fundamentals are constantly changing, the protocols don’t work and there is a lack of appropriate tools to ensure that the schools can function properly,” the unions criticize.
Government admits rule chaos
Many school principals and teachers complain that they are only informed about the changes at the last minute. Education Minister Blanquer announced in a newspaper interview on the last day of vacation that no more entire school classes would be closed, even if there were several positive cases. The test procedure is also a source of criticism. Parents are currently only supposed to use self-tests to determine whether and when their child can go back to school after an infection or after contact with infected people. Headmasters are now complaining about the enormous organizational effort. Some associations also want to go back to a stricter regime for security reasons. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal admitted that not everything had gone smoothly with the Corona rules in schools in the past few days. But he defended the new editions. Only two percent of the classes are currently closed. With the previous measures, it would be significantly more given the high number of cases.
Less action in schools
“Our primary concern is that schools remain open,” said Education Minister Blanquer, who often emphasizes that schools did not play a special role in the spread of the virus. He also proudly points out that France is the country that has closed schools the least since the beginning of the pandemic. In contrast to Germany, however, pupils in France are still not tested extensively and regularly. There is no public discussion about the use of air filters in the classrooms. FFP2 masks have also not been a matter of course so far – it was only on Friday morning, after the massive protests, that the government announced that it would soon be issuing five million FFP2 masks to teachers in preschools, since the children there do not have to wear a mask. Those affected welcomed the announcements. “So we didn’t strike in vain,” said a union representative.
Opposition supports protests
It’s a tiny success. Meanwhile, other presidential candidates are taking advantage of Macron’s confusion of rules and the resulting dissatisfaction among the population. “The strike is completely justified. The government is only making life difficult for teachers and students,” said far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour. Éric Zemmour: Are Macron’s opponents benefiting from the protests? (Source: IP3Press/imago images)
“The teachers aren’t giving up, as the president seems to think,” the Rassemblement National’s far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, told BFM TV before the strikes. “Four protocols that change every 48 hours are driving parents and teachers crazy,” she said on radio station RFI. “I think we should stop all this, we should stop seeing the kids cry when they take their tests,” Le Pen said.
She described the corona tests as a form of “abuse” and alternatively suggested temperature checks on the students. Several opposition politicians called on Education Minister Blanquer to resign.
Macron loses votes
Macron’s statements about the unvaccinated had previously caused a stir: last week, in an interview with the newspaper “Le Parisien”, the President spoke in a clear and sometimes vulgar vocabulary about “annoying” unvaccinated people in the corona pandemic to the end to want. With regard to opponents of vaccination, he had said that an irresponsible person was no longer a citizen. Even after a violent wave of criticism, the politician stuck to his choice of words. Macron’s Omicron course has consequences: In a survey published on Wednesday by the broadcaster BFM and the magazine “L’Express”, he lost three points. That would put him at 23 percent in the first round of voting on April 10, six percentage points ahead of conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse and far-right Marine Le Pen; But if Pécresse made it into the runoff, she would get 50 percent, like Macron. According to the survey, Macron would have the upper hand against Le Pen with almost 55 to 45 percent. In view of this tight starting position, the president cannot use the trouble in the school system, which millions of French people are connected to as parents or professionally.
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