President Emmanuel Macron of France expressed no regrets on Friday for saying that he wanted to “piss off” millions of France’s unvaccinated citizens earlier this week by barring them from entering public spaces, comments that drew criticism from his political opponents even as new reported cases in the country continued to soar.
“You can be upset by the familiar turn of phrase, which I fully stand by,” Mr. Macron said at a news conference in Paris alongside Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, who was there for an official visit. But, Mr. Macron said, “what upsets me is the situation that we are in.”
“I think that it was my responsibility to sound the alarm a bit,” he added.
France reported over 260,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, and the seven-day rolling average for that figure has surpassed 200,000 for the first time. Over the past week, hospital admissions have increased by around 40 percent, and Covid deaths by roughly 10 percent, according to government figures.
Alain Fischer, who is in charge of coordinating France’s Covid strategy, told the LCI news channel on Friday that the current wave of cases could reach its peak in approximately 10 days.
In a discussion with readers of the daily newspaper Le Parisien published this week, Mr. Macron had used crude slang to answer a woman who was complaining that unvaccinated patients occupied many beds in intensive care units, preventing those who were admitted for other serious illnesses from getting care.
“I really want to piss off the unvaccinated,” Mr. Macron had said in his reply, using a vulgar word that means to bother or annoy in French. “And so we are going to continue doing that, until the end.”
Political opponents pounced on Mr. Macron for crudely singling out a segment of the French population. But the comments appeared to be a calculated move to tap into the anger of the majority of people who are vaccinated and have grown frustrated with those who are still resisting booster shots.
Nearly 80 percent of the French population is vaccinated, while roughly five million people — from among more than 65 million — have not received a single shot.
Several recent polls have found that while a majority of respondents disapproved of the tone used by Mr. Macron, most agreed with the substance of his comments and with his government’s strategy to ensure that its restrictions interfere with the daily lives of its unvaccinated population.
“When some people turn their freedom, which becomes an irresponsibility, into a slogan, not only do they endanger the lives of others, they also restrict the freedom of others,” Mr. Macron said at the news conference on Friday. “And that I cannot accept.”
On Thursday, the French Parliament’s Lower House approved a government-sponsored bill that requires people to prove their vaccination status in order to access restaurants, cinemas, museums, long-distance trains and other public spaces. A negative Covid test would no longer be enough for a “health pass.”
The bill, which would also introduce heavy fines and prison sentences for people using fake health passes, will be reviewed by the French Senate next week and is expected to pass in mid-January.
Mr. Macron is not the only European leader who has raised blunt criticisms of the unvaccinated this week.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a visit to a vaccination center in Northampton on Thursday that it was a “tragedy,” given the continuing pressures faced by health workers, that people in the country were “spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.”
“It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo,” Mr. Johnson said, according to the BBC. “I think it’s time that I, the government, call them out on what they’re doing,” he said.