During his first interview of the year with French newspaper Le Parisien, Mr Macron used the term “’emmerder”, that can also be translated as “to get on their nerves”, to describe the strategy he intends to adopt against those who still have not been jabbed.
Mr Macron’s remarks sparked criticism from his opponents in parliament just four months before the presidential campaign, and appear to have delayed the already complicated move to restrict access to non-essential businesses to the vaccinated only.
“The unvaccinated, I really want to bug them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” the newspaper quoted the French leader as saying in a sit-down interview at the presidential Elysee Palace.
France, where 264,184 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, last year put in place a health pass that prevents people without a negative test or proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, cafes and other venues. The government wants to turn it into a vaccine passport that would only allow vaccinated people to have a health pass – scrapping the ability for people to show a negative test result.
Politicians debated the option in parliament into early Wednesday morning before their discussions were again suspended, disrupted by the furore over Mr Macron’s remarks.
The vaccine pass will exclude unvaccinated individuals from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights. France has already brought in new working from home and mask requirements to contain the Omicron spread.
“A president shouldn’t say that,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Twitter. “Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”
Republican presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse said the president’s words were not appropriate. “You have to accept them as they are – lead them, bring them together and not insult them,” she told CNews.
And left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon said Mr Macron had made an “astonishing confession”. “It is clear the [vaccination pass] is a collective punishment against individual freedom,” he said.
Elsewhere, the ultra-contagious Omicron variant has caused a record-high number of Covid-19 infections in Israel, which in December became the first country in the world to roll out a fourth booster jab for those aged over 60, health workers and immunocompromised people.
Despite its tight rules on travel and quarantine, the country recorded 11,978 cases on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began.
India has reported its first death from the Omicron variant as new daily cases stood at 58,097 on Tuesday. A weekend curfew has now been imposed in Delhi, with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia telling a news conference that offices will have to make half of their staff work from home.
In Italy, where 170,844 new cases were recorded on Tuesday as well as 259 new deaths, cabinet ministers are meeting to discuss ways to get vaccine hold-outs jabbed.
A plan to mandate vaccines for all workers, not just those in the health and social care sector, is being considered alongside one to make jabs compulsory for those aged over 60.
Germany is reporting sharply increased coronavirus infections following the Christmas holidays.
The national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, reported a seven-day incidence rate of 258.6 infections per 100,000 inhabitants – up from last Wednesday’s 205.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.