Macron vs. Omicron: a leader wary of the pandemic fatigue of French voters

Emmanuel Macron’s dealings with the Covid-19 pandemic put him in a strong position to win a second term as French president – but supporters fear he will lose his lead as Omicron infections peak and the public grows tired of a two-year crisis. .

“We are at a turning point when people are tired of restrictions. “Things could be bad for him,” said a French industrialist who backed Macron in 2017 and wants him to win the election again in April. “They think the situation is no longer worth the restrictions.”

As Macron prepares to formally run for re-election, his government is struggling to limit intense pressure on hospitals from Covid patients, while responding to people’s demands to ease restrictions on controlling the spread of the virus.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday that some rules for Covid will be eased next month, although there are more than 400,000 new confirmed infections a day, according to the health ministry.

Until recently, voters broadly supported Macron’s response to the pandemic. The coronavirus state of emergency in early 2020 diverted the anti-government “yellow vest” protests that rocked his presidency. After early missteps about the availability of masks and tests, the president praised the program to provide financial assistance to workers and businesses and the decision to keep schools open after the first wave.

His bet last summer to get vaccinated with a “health card” with evidence of immunization or a recent negative test for Covid-19 needed to access public places also paid off. This has encouraged millions more to take the blow, saving 4,000 lives and 6 billion euros in economic activity, according to a study by researchers from Bruegel and the French Economic Analysis Council.

A sign in front of a restaurant in Nice asks customers to prepare their vaccine passes when they enter

A sign in front of a restaurant in Nice asks customers to prepare their vaccination passes when they enter © Eric Gaillard / Reuters

Since then, the government has turned the permit into a “vaccine pass”, with the negative test no longer accepted, and after Macron’s declaration this month that he wanted to “anger the unvaccinated”, another 1 million people took their first blows.

However, this deliberately provocative comment has led critics to revive accusations that Macron is arrogant and ignores the concerns of ordinary people.

The chaos Omicron has created with France’s school system has increased public discontent, with teachers and parents complaining about complex testing and isolation rules. As Macron presented his vision for the future of the EU in a speech in Strasbourg this week, his government sought to calm anger by handing out medical masks and easing testing and quarantine.

A protest by teachers’ unions on Thursday was followed by a strike last week, in which about 80,000 gathered at nationwide rallies. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanker was forced to apologize for taking a holiday in Ibiza in late December – although he did not break the rules – after critics said his actions were evidence of the government’s chaotic handling of school safety protocols. when the students returned in January.

A recent Ifop poll found that public confidence in the government’s ability to fight the pandemic has fallen by nine percentage points to 41 percent since early December. Overall, Macron’s popularity has fallen four points since November, with a 40 percent positive rating for his record, according to a January 12 Ipsos poll.

French students join a rally convened by teachers' unions to protest the impact of Omicron's rules on education

French students join a rally convened by teachers’ unions to protest the impact of Omicron’s rules on education © Clement Mahoudeau / AFP / Getty Images

“Going back to school after the Christmas holidays was a mess and irritated a lot of people – all against the background of the general exhaustion of the health crisis,” said political analyst Chloe Maureen.

But analysts say Omicron’s political impact is difficult to predict. Infections and hospitalizations are still on the rise, but daily intensive care has decreased by approximately 6% last week compared to the previous week.

“In Macron’s camp, they hope that in about three weeks the current wave will end and people will be in a better mood, and with the coming of spring they will forget all this,” Maureen said. “But it’s also possible that there’s another twist or another option that will ruin things again.”

Vincent Martini, 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 the protocols to deal with the pandemic.” If they continue with very restrictive policies, it could hit them in the end. “

Omicron also diverted attention from issues such as immigration and crime that dominated the debate last summer. Valerie Pecres, the Conservative presidential candidate Les Républicains, and both far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemour, are struggling to shift the agenda back to their favorite territory.

According to recent Ifop polls, Macron has about 25 percent of the vote in the first round, compared to 18 percent for Le Pen, 16 percent for Pécresse and 11.5 percent for Zemmour.

Even if Kovid’s fatigue fails to undermine Macron’s advantage in the coming weeks, he faces other headwinds.

The problem that sparked the yellow vest protests in 2018 – the price of fuel for vehicles – has returned to haunt the government as rising oil prices have raised fuel prices to their highest level in more than a decade. Meanwhile, gas shortages in Europe have boosted home heating costs.

Macron responded to voters’ concerns by announcing additional law enforcement spending and limiting the increase in electricity bills for households to 4 percent this year by attacking the revenues of the state-controlled energy group EDF.

He also tries to keep Pecres – shown by polls as his most dangerous rival if they both reach the second round – out of balance, stressing the differences between her LR supporters on everything from vaccine mandates to France’s role in EU.

The instability has made even experienced political observers reluctant to predict Macron’s chances. “He’s ahead of the polls,” Maureen said, “but he’s not invincible.”

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