French President Emmanuel Macron said the coronavirus will continue to weigh on the country for a few months until vaccinations are ramped up, pledging that the crisis will not stop the government pursuing economic, security and environmental reforms.
“The first few months of the year will be difficult, and the epidemic will continue to weigh a lot on the life of our country until at least the spring,” Macron said on Thursday in a New Year’s Eve address.
France will rise to the challenge and pursue reforms to protect the environment and biodiversity, boost security, reward work, and fight against discrimination, the president said.
Sixteen months ahead of the next presidential election, Macron needs to find the right balance between protecting people against a virus that has already claimed more than 64,000 lives in the country, and revitalizing an economy that has contracted by about a 10th because of lockdowns and other restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic.
While some European nations such asGermany have closed non-essential shops again, France lifted the country’s second lockdown in mid-December and replaced it with a curfew. Restaurants, museums, cinemas, theaters, gyms, and amusement parks remain shut.
Two nationwide lockdowns earlier this year severely dented the economy, with the governmentpredicting an 11% contraction in 2020, and a 6% rebound in 2021.
While daily infections remain significantly above its target, the French government chose a slower start to its vaccination campaign than neighboring countries such as the U.K. and Germany, prioritizing the elderly in nursing homes.
Macron said he won’t let anyone play around with the safety and proper conditions in which vaccinations are carried out.
“Nor will I allow the process to slow down without justification for bad reasons: every French person who wants to must be able to be vaccinated,” he added.
Facing criticism for the slow start, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said earlier on Thursday that France will accelerate vaccinations for people most in need.
From Monday, medical staff 50 years old or more will be able to be vaccinated in hospitals and centers that are progressively receiving vaccines. Before Feb. 1, elderly people will be able to get shots in towns in vaccination centers, he said.
“Hope is there in this vaccine that human ingenuity has brought about in just one year,” Macron said, adding that it will enable France to invent a stronger economy as soon as the spring.
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