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Has Macron lost the plot? The pressure of next year's election seems to be skewing the President's political compass

Emmanuel Macron is pretty grumpy. Credit: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency/ Getty

Emmanuel Macron is pretty grumpy. Credit: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency/ Getty


February 3, 2021   7 mins

In a single day last week the French President made a baseless public attack on a leading Covid vaccine and took a gamble against a third French lockdown — a gamble which could ruin his chances of re-election in 15 months’ time.

A couple of days earlier, Macron saw his most likely rival in next year’s election, the far-right leader Marine le Pen, creep to within 4 points of him (52 to 48%) in voting intentions in the two-candidate second-round in May next year.

Those polling figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Other opinion surveys are far more favourable to the French president. Long-distance election forecasts are as hazardous as long-range weather forecasts. Le Pen has her own problems.

All the same, the poll gave Macron a jolting reminder of the chain of unfortunate events which could confront him in the final full year of his mandate: a lingering or worsening pandemic; a stuttering French vaccination programme; and a darkly negative, even angry swing in popular opinion. Small wonder if the President’s mood has been a little unpredictable.

Speaking to a group of foreign correspondents at the ElysĂ©e Palace last Friday, Macron barged, Trump-like, into a blazing quarrel over reduced Covid vaccine supplies to the EU from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. He suggested that there was “growing evidence” that AZ’s cheap-and-easy-to-use product was “quasi-ineffective” for people over the age of 65 and possibly for people over 60.

No such evidence exists. There is a shortage of formal evidence that the AZ-Oxford vaccine works on the over-65’s. There is no evidence that it does not work at all.

This was an unusual Macron mistake (if it was a mistake). He is verbose but he is usually careful with the facts. France is already the most vaccine-sceptic country in the world. Why would a French president cast doubt on a vaccine which will be one of three available to France in the next, critical months?

A few hours later, Macron chaired what may turn out to be the single most important meeting of his presidency. The outcome was decided by a presidential hunch which flew in the face of scientific advice.

A meeting of the Health Defence Council last Friday afternoon was expected to place France into a third Covid lockdown. The chief medical adviser and health minister had warned Macron privately (and other experts had warned him publicly) that the faster-moving “British variant” of Covid was starting to spread rapidly in France.

France was already suffering 20,000 new cases and 400 deaths a day — bad enough but less than most of its neighbours. The experts warned that, without a lockdown, the new variant would tip France into the kind of 1,000 deaths-a-day “epidemic-within-the-epidemic” suffered by Britain since Christmas.

Macron decided against the lockdown. He had, according to ElysĂ©e sources, prepared for the meeting by studying reams of data himself. He looked at not just the slowly rising cases but the “incidence rate” (which was stable) and reports on virus traces in waste water in the Paris sewers (falling).

In any case, the French — and especially the young French — were not in the mood for a third lockdown, Macron judged. Unless threatening figures became deadly facts, the French would resist another confinement. There would be widespread disobedience. Restaurants all over the country were already defying the partial lockdown rules — some secretly, others openly.

If there were another lockdown, the mental health problems of isolated students — something Macron had promised to address only a few days earlier — would become desperate. Large union demonstrations against Covid-related job losses are already threatened in March.

It was time, Macron decided, to gamble and defy the European trend towards third lockdowns. France could become “the country which didn’t have to lock down” when others did. “If we succeed, we will have saved ‘French exceptionalism’,” one senior ElysĂ©e official told the newspaper Le Figaro.

Instead of a new confinement, Macron decided to reinforce — or rather enforce properly for the first time — an existing 6pm to 6am curfew. All non-imperative travel from outside the EU would cease. Large non-food department stores and shopping centres would close. If the pandemic worsened, France could still lock down in the next couple of weeks.

There is something a little worrying about this account of such a vital meeting. The decision to avoid a lockdown was taken partly for good reasons (to spare the country’s shredded nerves) but also for dubious ones (to create a positive narrative that France could still succeed where others failed). The gravitational field of the presidential elections next April and May is, it appears, beginning to skew Macron’s personal and political compass.

Until now the President has prided himself on taking early and firm decisions on lockdowns (a first from mid-March to May and a second from late-October to mid-December). He boasted that these prompt decisions saved lives, compared to the delayed lockdown in Britain in March and the weak and poorly-enforced partial lockdown in Germany last autumn.

This time he decided to delay, partly for political reasons. The choice is all the stranger because Macron and his government have given so little attention to another potentially positive “national narrative” — France’s vaccine roll-out. After a glacial start (400 jabs in 4 days), the French programme took off reasonably well in January. France managed 1,486,493 vaccinations by the end of the month including 45,468 second injections. This was almost 50% ahead of the modest government target of 1,000,000 jabs.

Having caught up a little, France looks likely to fall off the pace again this month and drop behind Germany and Italy — never mind the extraordinary figures achieved by Britain. The government’s promise of a rapid acceleration in February (4,000,000 injections) has been mysteriously scaled back. The official plan is for 1,400,000 second jabs and 1,000,000 first time injections.

Yes, you say, but isn’t that the fault of the EU’s slow vaccine supply programme, which has been disrupted by production problems at the Pfizer and AstraZeneca factories (and also problems with the third supplier, Moderna)?

No, it isn’t. By the end of January France had received 2,600,000 (mostly Pfizer) jabs. It had used only 1,490,000 of them. It has 1,110,000 doses unused, in stock or unaccounted for.

The difficulties with supplies from Pfizer and AstraZeneca have now eased. France should receive a little less than 5,000,000 doses in February, adding to the 1,000,000 in stock. But France is planning only 2,400,000 injections this month.

Officially, the health ministry blames the shortfall on supplies from Big Pharma. Unofficially, France teems with stories of poor logistics, unambitious management and shortages of staff and needles. Professionals at the sharp end (literally) blame a cumbersome health service administration. Enthusiasm is sometimes lacking at all levels because staff (including 76% of care home workers, according to one survey) are infected by the widespread national allergy to vaccines.

Part of the French problem is legitimate. Britain’s 12-week delay between first and second injections has hugely boosted the UK headline figure for first jabs. France, like other EU governments, has dismissed that long gap as too risky. France gives the second jab after 28 days — and therefore needs to keep some doses back to fulfil that pledge.

In his meeting with foreign correspondents, Macron attacked Britain’s long delay between vaccine shots as “not very serious” and even dishonest. “We are lying to people when we tell them they’ve been vaccinated by getting one injection of a vaccine that consists of two injections,” Macron said.

He has a point. But the short French delay doesn’t fully explain the slow French roll-out. There were enough doses in France last month — and there will be more than enough this month — for a far more ambitious programme of both first and second jabs.

When the programme got off to a glacial start in late December, Macron made his anger known publicly. The rules were simplified. Urgency became briefly evident. Since then, urgency has abated but the President said little until last night.

He told TF1 TV news that France would “offer” a vaccine to all adults who wanted one before the end of the summer. He denied that that French vaccine programme was falling behind schedule. But his words were chosen carefully. “Offering a vaccine” is not the same as completing the required two injections.

Until now — despite many complaints and some failures — France’s record on coping with the Covid pandemic has been reasonably good. With the same size of populations, France has had 76,000 deaths, compared to 110,000 in the UK. Generous and early French furlough and economic support schemes — which provide the models for the British ones — helped keep the loss of GDP last year to 8.3% compared to 11.3% in Britain.

On vaccines, the UK is oceans ahead. Hence, I suspect Macron’s grumpy and inaccurate comments on the failings of the AZ vaccine last Friday. The president has been irked by Britain’s success with vaccines when he feels (correctly) that France has done better with almost everything else.

The French “failure” also extends to vaccine research. The Pasteur Institute abandoned its attempts to create a Covid vaccine last month. The French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi delayed its roll-out target until the end of this year after mistakes in testing. In both cases, this may have mostly been bad luck, rather than bad science. The rush to create Covid vaccines in months instead of years has created a global lottery of inspired versus less inspired guesses.

All the same, the French failures have been embarrassing for a President who argues that France and the EU must reconquer “strategic and economic sovereignty” from the United States and China. By comparison, the British government and British media have been able to vaunt the success of “our” vaccine. (“Ours” meaning that it was invented by an international team of scientists in Oxford and multiplied industrially by a British-Swedish company with a French boss).

So, at the meeting with foreign journalists, Macron was already in narrative-building mode. He wanted to play down and denigrate the British narrative (“fast vaccines trump all”). He wanted to prepare the ground for a “French narrative”, including the lockdown decision or “non-decision” that he took a few hours later.

The President evidently hopes to be able to sell in the election campaign in spring next year a three-part French success story. The three elements would be: resisting a third lockdown; making a plodding success of a “careful” and “honest” vax programme; and opening up French lives and the French economy by the autumn (when the elections will be six months away).

He could yet succeed.

Take Macron’s promise to  vaccinate  all adults, (52,000,000 people) by the end of August. Many adults will refuse. The willingness of the French to roll up their shirt sleeves is increasing but has reached only 56% (the equivalent of 29,000,000 adults).

Two jabs for all willing adults might require 58,000,000 injections or 276,000 a day. The planned jab rate in February is less than 100,000 a day.

Hope remains, however. France’s vast network of local pharmacies will be allowed to vaccinate people from later this month once — irony alert — the easy-to-store AstraZeneca vaccine becomes available. As AZ supplies increase in April and May, the French pharmacies say they will be able to vaccinate up to 500,000 a day. But that would require a massive effort by the French government to get the vaccines out to them.

Another grimmer narrative is also possible.

What if  Macron’s gamble last Friday fails? France is forced into lock down later this month. The vaccine programme remains laborious. Cases and deaths explode just as they begin to fall elsewhere.

Worse, the UK, for all its earlier Covid failures and crippling self-imposed Brexit trade barriers, succeeds while France fails. Macron’s presidential rivals (including Ms Le Pen) are presented with a counter narrative. Britain surfs on its rapid vaccine campaign to an early retreat of the pandemic; British lives and businesses open up; deaths in Britain fall. France’s do not. Macron’s election chances evaporate (not necessarily to Ms Le Pen’s ultimate gain).

It is small wonder that the President is in a tetchy mood.


John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

“Crippling self-imposed trade barriers.”

I’m going to take issue with this, as repeated references of this type drive me mad. True, Britain chose Brexit. It did not choose the stringent trade barriers which have been put in place. To have some trade barriers was to be expected. But the ones which have been erected (stricter than those applicable to NZ, I believe) are disproportionate and entirely a result of the EU wishing to punish Britain. Wasn’t it the French foreign minister Clément Beaune (another one who loves to denigrate a British narrative) who boasted a few weeks ago that Britain was subject to the “strictest standards of any country in the world”? As if, overnight, British goods had all become shoddy and venomous. Absurd.

The fact is, if you leave the EU – an organisation with massive existential angst but just as massive power (still) – it will choose the terms on which you leave. And, quite shortsightedly in its utter panic at the rise of “populism”, the EU is willing to inflict serious harm upon itself to make an example of Britain. While, I will add, failing to do what would really secure its long term future, which is to prove to its citizens time and time again that action on a European level provides added value as compared to action on a national level. See the current vaccine chaos and the long-promised-but-still-not-delivered European solution to the migration issue.

Aden Wellsmith
Aden Wellsmith
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

No it won’t choose the terms because you just walk away.

deborahnorman1
deborahnorman1
3 years ago
Reply to  Aden Wellsmith

But we haven’t

Peter Turner
Peter Turner
3 years ago
Reply to  deborahnorman1

It’s only been one month. Give it time. There’s lots of things to deal with right now.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

So why did Johnson sign it off then?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

Because, despite all the posturing, a deal was better than no deal. The deal we’ve got is very thin and low quality but avoids the massive political fallout that no deal would have entailed. For the time being anyway.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

No Deal would have Made EU blocking of Northern Ireland illegal & immediately scuppered CFP .Trade deals are beloved of Politicians…look good at elections….Companies Trade,Politicians Dont

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

There is perhaps debate to be had about whether he should have called the EU’s bluff, and walked out with no deal.

But, Johnson inherited a terrible mess from the hapless, spineless May. There was a stark choice at that time.

Simon Holder
Simon Holder
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I agree 100%. That stupid, irrational and biased comment completely destroyed an otherwise interesting piece. And having a minister like Beaune (Beaunehead?!) making fatuous remarks only makes the French look puerile, silly and petulant. France used to be magisterial, basically balanced and intellectually ahead of many other countries; sharing their sovereignty with 26 other countries has diluted this to the level of tantrums of a spoilt child. Thank God we got out – now we can act as the senior European nation in a sea of infants. They will look up to us again – and with good reason!

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

> Macron attacked Britain’s long delay between vaccine shots as “not very serious” and even dishonest…He has a point.

This is incorrect, sews irrational doubt about vaccines and should be amended.

“On Tuesday, however, Oxford University put out a pre-print of a paper for the Lancet which appears to show that a single dose of the Oxford-AZ vaccine is more efficacious than the initial results suggested and seems to justify the government’s decision to delay the second jab. Indeed, it suggests that the vaccine is far more effective when the gap between jabs is at least 12 weeks.”

The UK government took an entirely rational risk with its decision and it paid off. If the bureaucratic rule following mentality rules it out, so much the worse for that mentality.

Sad to see misinformation spread here.

superses
superses
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Sows

T Arn
T Arn
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

“We are lying to people when we tell them they’ve been vaccinated by getting one injection of a vaccine that consists of two injections” – this is what the author was referring to. I am afraid that you have falsely imposed what point the author is getting at through your use of ellipsis. I think that Macron has acted disgracefully, but this point that he makes before information was released concerning the efficacy of only one injection is fair. If you only have one injection, you have not been fully vaccinated.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

It’s not mis-information. It is reporting what Macron said, and what he said was in line with the data submitted to regulatory bodies. We would all do better if we treated Covid issues as we do other public health issues, and stop trying to manage what the public hear.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

I agree with that strongly.

The problem is that the author said he had a point. He did not.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Many (but not all) such vaccines require two ‘jabs’ to become fully effective. Usually these would be given 12 weeks apart, based on our historic experience. But because of the urgent need to get through the testing regime, the period was shortened to 3 weeks – nobody thought that this was likely to be the optimum interval, but it allowed the vaccine to be approved for use two months earlier. The assumption is that 12 weeks will prove to be a better interval between vaccinations, and early results tend to confirm this hypothesis.

Stephen Colman
Stephen Colman
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Unfortunately the same data for the Pfizer vaccine is not showing the same positivity. In fact, early indications from Israel show that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is left effective than was originally claimed. Admittedly this is preliminary data, but for those of us who have had the Pfizer vaccine it is very worrying to have to wait 12 weeks. It would be better if the government changed its approach from one size fits all to careful consideration of what each type of vaccine needs.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Colman

It is still the right decision.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

With the same size of populations, France has had 76,000 deaths, compared to 110,000 in the UK.

That statement is simply not true. The French numbers do not include deaths at home from Covid because the French paper-based system of death certificates cannot be counted in a timely manner.

Aden Wellsmith
Aden Wellsmith
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

The death rate will at the end be the same. Viruses don’t read passports.

The spread will be slower in areas that have smaller networks, but the deaths will still happen.

The only real difference is how good your health care systems are.

So is the NHS any good? Leading the pack in deaths.

But what do you expect from an organisation that slaughters 12-20,000 a year from avoidable errors?

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  Aden Wellsmith

That is silly. If you go to hospital withCovid you will be treated as well as in any country, if not better.
Covid spread rapidly here because our government took no timely steps to prevent it spreading. Other countries were proactive in their response, we were reactive.
People are dying because they are infected. That has nothing to do with the NHS.

nickwiz1
nickwiz1
3 years ago
Reply to  Angela Frith

Since 1987 the capacity of the NHS in beds and critical care beds and staff numbers have halved according to the Kings report in 2019. Meanwhile the population has grown by 10 million or more since then. Thus reducing NHS capacity further. So why did we have to destroy our economy and worsen just about every other aspect of human health for the vast majority who will never die of Covid19? To save the NHS? But why did we have to save the NHS? Because the very people locking us down and setting us against each other, ruined it in the first place! We have been forced to ruin our lives to conceal the fact that they ruined the NHS and by default therefore our lives too.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  nickwiz1

The number of NHS beds has fallen by 75% since 1948. Establishing the NHS required the closure of a lot of hospitals.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  nickwiz1

The Closure of Isolation Hospitals or (TB in 1930s 1940s etc,,) IS a serious mistake ..

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
3 years ago
Reply to  Angela Frith

It has everything to do with the NHS, I knew somebody who died in hospital last week after being admitted for something entirely non related. She contracted Corona in hospital whereupon they DNR’d her. The NHS are a disgrace and have been for years.

joe_falconer
joe_falconer
3 years ago
Reply to  Angela Frith

I have been a big supporter of the NHS all my life.

But now, if things don’t change rapidly, I’ll be on the side of a common insurance solution. I know its not the best approach but faced with a failed NHS and a Tory and Labour governments that repeatedly avoided any real change, it may be the only way.

Anybody who thinks that the NHS is not dysfunctional hasn’t tried healthcare in other countries.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

None of these death statistics can be relied on.

1. Becsuie of the faulty PCR false positive tests
2. Because many deaths are classified as Covid are ‘with’ not ‘from’ Covid and winter flu has “disappeared” altigether into the Covid stats.

We desperately need a totally independent review of all Covid ‘deaths’. to get to the truth ( which seems long absent in this whole dismal affair).

valleydawnltd
valleydawnltd
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

Indeed. My father passed away last week. Apparently he had tested pos for Covid, but displayed no symptoms except a slight temperature. His body shut down to fight the infection, in other words he slept a lot. He lost fluids, and was not eating. The death certificate put cause of death as covid. Personally, and in the opinion of my EOL nurse wife, it was malnutrition. Had he been given a glucose and electrolyte drip, he could have pulled through. Then again, he was 82 and suffering from dementia.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  valleydawnltd

a sane world would say he died of dementia, or the more flowery sounding “failure to thrive” that was ascribed to my mother some years back.

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  valleydawnltd

I do t think you can put malnutrition on a death certificate. You have to put an actual primary cause

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

We test more than most countries. Today I noted an absence of declared cases from either France or Spain.
We may be using a Cycle Threshold well above the 30 (?) recommended by the WHO, meaning almost anything is picked up – including dead fragments of coronavirus from recovered infectees. PHE will not (refuses to) declare or admit the CT level in use for PCR (whose own inventor said it was useless for viral detection).
We are recording far higher levels of death attributed to coronavirus than a lot of other countries; only comparable methodologies would reveal comparable numbers.
Perhaps small wonder we look so “bad” on a relative basis in these grotesque daily league tables. Perversely, it seems this is what is desired…

marykelly618
marykelly618
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

“Those who have nothing to hide hide nothing”.
Makes you wonder what the authorities are hiding from us by not releasing the cycle threshold and false positive rate.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  marykelly618

Indeed. That is the starting point for this labyrinth of selective data, media co-option, psychological warfare against the UK population and the utter lunacy of lockdowns (even the WHO advises against them). It all comes down to a flawed testing system, which drives ‘cases’, which drive all decision-making (imposition) as well as new legislation and fuels the state-sponsored narrative from which no deviation or dissent is tolerated.

All very well constantly claiming to be following “the” science, but if said science is based on something so utterly unreliable then literally anything is possible – not least when you’ve terrified a large proportion of the British public and effectively placed them under house arrest.

joe_falconer
joe_falconer
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Well, lets look at the govts attitude to PCR tests and the labs doing them:

“These laboratories have a statutory duty to report positive cases to PHE, but they are not obliged to advise PHE which tests they are using, nor submit CT values used to PHE.”

This is despite the WHO making clear that CT values are critical and should be recorded. And the likes of Fauci claiming that high replication leads to nonsense results.

Take from this what you like but covid death stats are not reliable anywhere. The only thing we can rely on is excess deaths and even then attributing those excess deaths to a particular cause is impossible.

joe_falconer
joe_falconer
3 years ago
Reply to  joe_falconer

Links for those interested:

https://www.whatdotheyknow….

https://www.who.int/news/it

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  joe_falconer

Thanks for this.

Alex Camm
Alex Camm
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Has anyone looked at how national health systems are funded and how this may have affected the reporting of deaths from covid?
It strikes me that as the NHS is funded irrespective of who it admits it is likely to describe as many patients as it can in order to attract more support and funding.
Other health systems who are not able to treat patients with other deseases for which they could charge more, would be less inclined?
May be too cynical?

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Camm

Are you trying to say the NHS gets different funding for different diseases, so has reason to lie about the nature of illness? Because the number of inpatients is absolute, the duration of stay also absolute.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

This may or may not be true – how deaths are recorded is complex and political. The UK stats do however show something much worse, and not talked enough about. Excess deaths in the UK are awful for 2020, far worse than France, Sweden etc.

The ONS have nice charts where you can view this.

Whether these 10,000s extra deaths are stealth Covid or caused by lockdown they seem to be ignored. Personally I think this is the most important stat.

gav.green
gav.green
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

If you just look at excess deaths though and compare it to France, actually we come off even worse.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

There are two issues with the stats comparing performance between UK and France:

1. In the UK we are counting (and probably over counting) every Covid death in hospital, care homes and at home while the French are not. I suspect there will soon be another revision downwards of UK deaths and an upwards revision in French deaths as in the UK if someone test positive for Covid then is knocked down by a bus within 28 days of that test it is counted as a Covid death. France is not making that mistake.
2. The French public sector accounts for c57% of their economy. The figure is c39% in the UK. The effect of lockdown disproportionally falls on the private sector. Therefore it would be expected that the UK economy would see a bigger drop in GDP. We will only know the fully extent of the damage lockdown has done when we see the speed of economy recovery!

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

David, your point about different statistical methods for counting Covid deaths is very interesting. I was not aware of this. If you have the time, it would be very educational for me (and, I suspect) others if you put together a blog to show how different countries around the world count their dead. Maybe I am just being a little nationalistic here, but I can’t help thinking that the German death toll is suspiciously low.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

The Germans were adept at fiddling the emission figures as I (gleefully) recall.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

The French system of issuing death certificates is manual and very cumbersome. As a result the French do not count anyone who dies at home of Covid in their statistics. At the start they also excluded deaths in care homes and even now there may be some time lag between death and recording.

The last publication I can find is in September 2020 but at that time it was estimated that about the same number of people had died of Covid in their own homes in the UK as had died in care homes. This was due to people who needed to go into care homes not being admitted for fear of them bring Covid into those care homes.

All countries have different system of counting deaths, I am not aware of all the differences and it would probably take a lot of time to complete. Perhaps one of the Unherd journalists could do it. All I know is the UK counts every death within 28 days of a positive death as a Covid death plus others assumed to have Covid meaning our number are over stated while other countries understate.

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Thank you. Much obliged.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

The ONS data is based on death certificates.

As has been explained ad infinitum :
Death Certificates contain causes 1a (cause directly leading to death) 1b and 1c (causes leading to 1a) and 2 (causes contributing to death but not directly related).
If Covid-19 is assessed the clinician to have been the main cause of death it will appear as the cause in 1a.
In other cases, someone might die from a complication of Covid-19 ““ for instance a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) or a bacterial pneumonia in which case that will be 1a with Covid as 1b or c.
In other cases, the person may have had Covid contributing to a death from another cause ““ perhaps by making the person weaker or more susceptible or starting a chain of events and then may appear as 2.
There never was a formal requirement for a positive Covid-19 test in order to write “Covid” on a certificate if the clinical picture was clear and so some patients, mostly earlier in the pandemic (when there was little testing going on) would have had “Covid “written down without yet testing positive.

the 28 day thing :
In the Spring, the government had to be pushed hard to start presenting data for deaths outside hospital (bear in mind around 1 in 3 Covid deaths have been in care homes and around 1 in 6 in other non-hospital settings).
It also switched its definition to deaths only in people with a positive Covid test and within 28 days of that test, which doubtless excludes people in whom Covid-19 was an important part of their final illness (it can cause lingering and relapsing ‘long covid’ symptoms and complications beyond that time) e.g. if you have been sick enough to have been hospitalised with Covid and required anticoagulant therapy, you will be at increased risk of keeling over for up to 90 days after discharge.

So basically, the government’s own figures tend to underestimate not overestimate the overall numbers of Covid-19 deaths.

All this information from David Oliver, a consultant in geriatrics and acute medicine in Manchester who has been managing Covid patients and all the sequelae since the begining of 2020.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

That’s all very well, but it doesn’t really cover it. According to ONS analysis deaths between December 19 and July 20 show that non covid death rates fell dramatically during the high of lockdown then rose after it. The ONS say this indicates that Covid “brought forward” (their term) deaths, it did not cause them.

The ONS also say during that time that deaths were recorded as Covid deaths that were “involving Covid” (their term) but not caused by Covid.

So the ONS doesn’t appear to think the figures underestimate deaths.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

The “with” or “involving” Covid debate. So “involving” means that Covid appeared as 1b,c or 2 on the death certificate – in other words if the patient hadn’t caught Covid they would probably still be alive.

The underestimate comes from the numbers recorded early on in the first wave when very few people, particularly in care homes, knew what was going on + a lack of knowledge around the long term fatal sequelae of a serious Covid infection e.g. kidney failure and myocarditis.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

No, a large number of people dying with covid would have died anyway. There is also an interesting trend where deaths from Flu, etc are running considerable below average suggesting substitution of cause of death.

Your second paragraph really proves the point. Old people die of upper respiratory tract infections. Covid did not change that but we are getting hysterical about it.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

” …a large number of people dying with covid would have died anyway.” Says who ?

Flu etc. running below average … substitution of cause of death – what are you suggesting ? that the big actuary in the sky had a quota to fill for 2020 and found that flu wasn’t doing the job and so called up an alternative respiratory virus ?
The obvious reasons are that the IFR is higher for Covid than flu + fewer people are getting flu anyway because it also is a respiratory virus and therefore transmission is reduced by social distancing, less mixing, masks etc. + larger uptake of flu vaccinations in 2020.

Old people die of all sorts of things. It doesn’t matter how you slice the onion, there were excess deaths (as defined by ONS – more deaths than expected compared with the previous 5 year average or for the previous 8 years if you look at the Actuaries CMI graph) in 2020 to the tune of about 75,000 (counting from January 1 2020 to January 1 2021)

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

“Says who?” The stats. If you look at the cycle through the first phase (March to September) their was no significant rise in excess deaths ie people died in March who would have died in May/June anyway. If covid had been killing fit and healthy people excess deaths would have been very high.

The implication of the flu fingers is that deaths are being allocated to covid which in normal years would have been allocated to flu.

Yes excess deaths are up for 2020 (due to the rise in November/December) but the real picture will not be known until 2021 figures when if we follow the pattern of the first wave excess deaths will be below the average!

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Excess deaths don’t just occur in fit and healthy people. This term applies to all cause excess mortality – that means everyone

What graphs / numbers are you looking at ?
EUROMOMO, ONS, PHE, Financial Times, Actuaries Continuous Mortality Investigation all show 100 – 160% increase in expected (average mortality for the last 5 – 8 years) mortality during the spring peak with mortality levels at or just below the 5 – 8 year average from weeks 26 – 41 and then rising again.

You are absolutley correct that the final butchers bill for 2020 won’t be in until March at the earliest because of the delays in coroner’s courts.

I don’t understand your last comment at all since the spring excess death numbers are clear – is this part of the “dry tinder” argument ? – all the susceptible bods died in 2020 leaving fewer people to die in 2021 ?

Alexandra Thrift
Alexandra Thrift
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Not any more. Germany managed to contain the spread of Covid during the so-called first wave but this achievement
couldn’t be sustained. Numbers of infections and deaths have racked up rapidly this winter, even in Germany. I inspect the WHO figures every morning as a rough guide.

Victor Newman
Victor Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

The German and Austrian approach only includes “of” CV19, this has been estimated as between 15 and 26% of total deaths.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Germany has been recording death as due to viral pneumonia in a large number of cases. I know not the absolute number but the source for that was from within the NHS. That’s one way of looking ‘better’ on a relative and absolute basis.

Another is Spain. I am unfamiliar with Spanish protocols or definitions for recording of deaths, but they evidently undercount the true figure. In late July, the left-leaning El País daily commissioned a special investigative report to compare the official number (28,000 +/- at the time) to another, gained from a publicly observable / verifiable source. El P’s team totalled the number of death certificates mentioning coronavirus filed at civil registries across all 17 of the country’s regions and autonomous provinces. They came up with over 44,000. That was July, so one can speculate what such a margin of error might lead to now.

And I haven’t believed the numbers coming out of France for some time.

TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

There are probably more than 2. Excess deaths (properly defined) is the only accurate statistical comparator.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

It is worse than that. If Mrs Bell got fed up with you and stabbed you with the bread knife, and you were rushed to A&E, coughed as you passed over the threshold and then snuffed it, there is a very good chance the Doctors would record you as a Covid death, not withstanding the bread knife. Of course there are advantages to this – not for you of course as you’ve snuffed it. Mrs Bell would not be found Guilty of Murder and spend 12 years in Holloway, but would be able to swan off round the world and spend the insurance. And good luck to her we all say. Isn’t Covid wonderful.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Yorks

Please don’t suggest that to her!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘Worse, the UK, for all its earlier Covid failures and crippling self-imposed Brexit trade barriers…’

The UK has signed 30 trade agreements with more to come. Some exporters are already giving up on the European market because it is now easier to export to various other countries. John Lichfield is always incredibly anti-British, presumably because he has lived in France for about 30 years.

Olly Pyke
Olly Pyke
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Surely criticising the government’s response to covid isn’t anti-British? Thats exercising freedom of speech. By that logic the majority of the mainstream media and a very high percentage of the population are, or have been at times, anti-British. He may well be anti-Brexit, which isn’t the same as being anti-British. Having lived in France for 30 years he’s surely perfectly placed to deliver insights into what is going on in French politics, which is why the article is of interest and value.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Olly Pyke

I have been reading John Lichfield’s articles about France for about 30 years. He never stops digging away at Britain. Perhaps he’s got an oatcake on his shoulder because he grew up on Stoke-on-Trent.

Colin Reeves
Colin Reeves
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well, he was at the “Independent”. Says it all.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

You know about oatcakes?
Also like a lot of people who say they were from SOT JL was born in a small village outside SOT. Very few people born in SOT escape

Alfred Prufrock
Alfred Prufrock
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I recall reading a few day ago that we had signed agreements with around 64 different countries.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

To live in France is to see this country in a very different light. – not always shining either.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

I have lived in France, Germany and the Netherlands. I visit France regularly. I know what it is to judge the relative merits of life in different countries.

Alexandra Thrift
Alexandra Thrift
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

I lived in France for many years. Much as I love many aspects of life there, the capacity of the French for self delusion knows no bounds so they will easily swallow the concocted criticisms of the Astra Zeneca vaccine ( as Macron knew well) and I notice a health official was wheeled out to back up that the vaccine had not been fully tested on the elderly. I suspect that nobody in France will hear the positive results of today’s studies regarding the AZ vaccine. French bureaucracy is capable of squeezing the life out of any useful thought that might be outside the box , and turn it into a mortal danger.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

He is also half Belgium and thus should be delighted that “plucky little Belgium” is lying third in the ‘Corona Olympics’, just behind San Marino on silver, and Gibraltar on gold, with about 1,800 C-19 deaths per million.

The UK off course is wheezing along on 1,500, but as we should recall it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part. “Play up, play up, and play the game!”

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It will be interesting to see if other countries are prepared to pay the EU as much for access to its market if the EU no longer has access to British markets in its gift.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

67 Trade deals..but Trade deals Are beloved of mediocre politicians like biden…used as blackmail by others..ie Ulster

icubelimited
icubelimited
3 years ago

The change in GDP is reported as if they are comparing the same thing. It has been widely reported that the UK determines GDP in a different way – by, for example, measuring the output of the health and education services rather than the input – and so our figures appear worse than they are on a comparative basis. Therefore, the UK has a greater chance of bouncing back faster.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  icubelimited

We also count Covid deaths in a different way, the French exclude quite a lot of deaths that would be included in the UK. So that is another statistic which is not comparable!

TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Entirely agree and it’s so annoying to see headline covid death rates banded around. On one measure, UK excess (all cause) deaths were 60,000 in 2020 (1.01% death rate vs baseline 0.92%) which paints a different picture than the lazy journalistic narrative repeated above.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  TIM HUTCHENCE

The problem is being sane and rational doesn’t make good headlines. The broadcast media especially have sensationalised death rates.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

You mean ours are ramped up then? Who is surprised?

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

I know of one cancer death where Covid was put down as the cause when it patently was not. When relatives queried this they were told, “it helps with the funeral.” Who knew?!

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

and Captain Tom (bless him) who went into hospital at 100 with pneumonia which he had for a while..and yet the paper reports..
died on Tuesday morning after testing positive for Covid-19,
So-cause of death?

Sarah Atkin
Sarah Atkin
3 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

Isn’t it the case that we include deaths where Covid is ‘mentioned’ as a possible cause of death as Covid deaths. This isn’t to detract from the truly appalling levels of death but this must skew the statistics. That can’t help inform current or future pandemic responses.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Allie McBeth

This appears to be a common story at the moment.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

A little man with a big Napoleon complex.
At least we can ignore him forever as he is inconsequential to us now.
Good luck to the people of Europe you will need it

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

In today’s DM Dominic Sandbrook describes Macron as a ‘bargain basement Napoleon’ and a ‘Parisian Pinocchio’. Cheap shots, but not inaccurate and they put a smile on one’s face.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Personally, I liked “Poundland De Gaulle”.

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well over-used and clichéd – I suppose some might smile.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David Probert

‘Tesco Talleyrand’ or ‘Matalan de Maistre’ might be more to your taste (and mine), but they wouldn’t mean much to the average DM reader.

Aden Wellsmith
Aden Wellsmith
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

President Micron

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

The People of the EU, not of Europe.
They are not the same thing.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

Exactly!

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Best

Im very sympathetic to him,especially after the murder of samuel paty and terrorist attack in nice.
Also especially after his row with Erdogan and how badly France was treated in the anglosphere press.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“France was already suffering 20,000 new cases and 400 deaths a day ” bad enough but less than most of its neighbours.”

FFS!

*Fewer.

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I was about to make the same point! He has made the same mistake further into his article.

On another point, isn’t comparing population size a little unfair as surely it should be population density. France is far bigger than the UK. 126% greater in area in fact.

Sarah Lambert
Sarah Lambert
3 years ago

The population density of Paris is huge, 2.2 million people in 105 square kilometers.

Robin Williamson
Robin Williamson
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Lambert

Square Kilometers perhaps?

ian.walker12
ian.walker12
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Lambert

No, 105 sq metres is incorrect they’d be standing on each others shoulders.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Lambert

Are you referring to the catacombs?

Sarah Lambert
Sarah Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

square kilometers

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

Yes, I agree, that’s a good point.

Sidney Falco
Sidney Falco
3 years ago

Spends more time sneering at the UK than at Macron.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Sidney Falco

very noticeable!

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  Sidney Falco

I thought this piece was good and well balanced

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago

An Elysée source quoted in le Figaro said the government was aware that the country was a hairdsbreadth away from another Gilets Jaunes episode which, it will be recalled, shook France to the core. The difference between the way the French and UK electorates react to government (violent vs non-violent) is something that has to be taken seriously by French policy makers.

The old Renseignement Generaux (RG) which spied on the people for their Parisian overlords may be gone but that does not mean the authorities do not keep a close eye on volatile public sentiment. Judging the mood is an art that can go badly wrong. It was a small spark which made the Gilets Jaunes go off with an almighty bang.

Another Elysée source warned that if a new lockdown were met with mass disobedience, the government would find itself “disarmed” and unable to do anything about it, a situation which would have consequences far beyond Macron’s fate.

Macron judged that a few hundred or even thousand extra deaths are worth the risk if that’s what it takes to make an eventual third lockdown politically palatable to a population on the edge (which I don’t see myself because I live in la France profonde). It seems that the president’s decision took his government by surprise after the public had been primed for days to expect another lockdown. In that sense he’s taken a gamble, cynical or pragmatic according to taste, by defying the unelected experts and their inhuman computer models.

French governments always look worse against bigger Germany which is why similarly-sized Britain makes a useful comparative foil but an irrelevant one. Frenchmen don’t judge the quality of government by comparison with the UK and didn’t even when Thatcherism was rampant and the French were economically down. They judge their president and government on their own merits.

Macron saw that the French were fed up with Covid, didn’t want a third confinement and rightly trusted his own political instincts because he’s the one with the responsibility. If the media and the yakkers in the media had pure motives, their opinions would carry more weight but everyone knows they’re biased and have no better solutions themselves.

Should the decision not to impose a third lockdown now turns out to be wrong, Macron will find a way to remind the French that he gave them what they wanted.

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

Very interesting. Thanks for the update.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

You make a very fair point. On reflection did not the governments estimation of the public’s tolerance for a lockdown play a very large part in its calculations regarding the first lockdown in March and each subsequent lockdown. If the government is unable to secure at least the tacit support of the significant majority of the population on these issues it has no tools left.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
3 years ago

No, Macron has not lost the plot. He has grasped that the French are heartily sick of lockdowns imposed by unelected but politically motivated scientists. Furthermore, his own population are considerably less submissive than their British counterparts.

As sometimes happens with politicians, he did the right thing because he saw no alternative.

Tim Diggle
Tim Diggle
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Faulks

Agreed. Le Figaro published their poll last week with the intriguing headline that a majority (62%) supported a third lockdown but not the restrictions that went with it!

Although it has been little reported in the UK press, and not on the front pages, there has been considerable civic unrest in normally peaceful Benelux/Denmark recently. In the last week The Netherlands has seen anti-lockdown riots in 10 cities; Brussels has seen a mass demonstration with c.500 arrests in Brussels; in Copenhagen a mass protest included the burning of an effigy of the Prime Minister (sources: De Volkskrant and Nieuwsblad.be – I am a speaker of both French and Dutch).

Although I think he will be able to hold off the threat from Mme Le Pen (whose xenophobia and nationalism may be right wing but whose social and economic views are as far left as those of M Melenchon and Mr Corbyn) but I suspect he is keeping a wary eye on the Mayor of Le Havre (M Edouard Phillipe, whom he replaced as PM with M Jean Castex last year!)

Rob Dixon
Rob Dixon
3 years ago

“crippling self-imposed Brexit trade barriers” And there, in just six words, the writer’s credibility just melts away. For goodness sake, get over it, we’re out and there’s plenty of good news about. Stop talking the UK down in the hope you can one day say ‘I told you so’.

Aden Wellsmith
Aden Wellsmith
3 years ago

So Macron is lying to try and get elected.

Do you think the French believe him?

Looking at the maths, Macron will be lucky to make round 2.

Fillion/Sarkozy have been targeted using the courts. Show trials etc. That takes them out. Those voters will predominantly swing to Le Pen. That’s why Macron is trying to talk tough on migration. If he gets in again, that will be forgotten of course.

Holland and co are toast. The socialists will swing to Melanchon. So will the Banlieu vote, if they vote.

Then we have Eduard and Barnier, the pro EU middle who will split the Macron vote.

So my calculations are Le Pen versus Melanchon [to the left of Stalin]

Will the French vote to increase their taxes from 57% of income to god knows what under Melanchon?

David Probert
David Probert
3 years ago
Reply to  Aden Wellsmith

“Lying to get elected “…..now what British politicians does that remind me of…..long list coming I fear.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Aden Wellsmith

‘Will the French vote to increase their taxes from 57% of income to god knows what under Melanchon?’

I wouldn’t put it past them. Of course, anybody remotely productive or useful will leave the country. Many of them already have. I encounter a hell of a lot of French execs in my interactions with large international corporations. Far more than I do English execs.

gbauer
gbauer
3 years ago

What we’ve done so far hasn’t worked too well, so there’s that. Virus or no virus, variants or no variants, we can’t live this way forever. It takes guts to try something different.

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago

“By comparison, the British government and British media have been able to vaunt the success of ‘our’ vaccine. (‘Ours’ meaning that it was invented by an international team of scientists in Oxford and multiplied industrially by a British-Swedish company with a French boss).”

Well, I am willing to take Mr. Lichfield’s word for it. But then, international collaboration in national scientific ventures is nothing new. Take the American space programme, Project Apollo, for example. It was American, right? The whole point to was put on the Moon a man with a Stars and Stripes shoulderflash. And yet… “‘My dad said NASA was built by Jews, Nazis and hillbillies,’ recalled Reuben Slone, the son of NASA engineer Henry Slone.” (https://www.latimes.com/cal….

So, if you want to be pernickety about it, it was an American-German joint venture, but we recall it as a purely American national programme. In which case, is it so wrong to see the Oxford-AZ vaccine as a British success? Especially since it required British Government intervention to ensure the fruits of Oxford’s research did not disappear into the United States? (https://news.sky.com/story/

John K
John K
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Yes. The US space programme was based on the V2. Verner von Braun allegedly said when the USSR got Sputnik up first that it proved their German scientists were better than the USA’s German scientists.

Simon Baseley
Simon Baseley
3 years ago

I suspect the gap between the numbers of Covid deaths in France and the UK, is due to more than just differences in the way in which the data is collected. Three categories of the population are more at risk from Covid than others. They are the elderly, the obese and those of an Asian or Afro-Caribbean background. Whilst the two countries have a similar number of over-60s, as far as Europe goes apart from Malta, the UK at 27% has the highest percentage of its population categorised as obese. France by contrast has one of the lowest rates of obesity at 10%. Again, in percentage terms just under 10% of the UK population is recorded as Asian or Afro-Caribbean in ethnicity, compared to 5% in France. It remains to be seen how this will have impacted upon the numbers of Covid deaths in each country, but clearly if you have fewer people at risk you will have fewer deaths.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baseley

Are you including those from the Maghreb in your French figures?

George H
George H
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

As Maghrebians are neither Afro-Caribbean nor Asian, I don’t see why he would have included them.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  George H

It would have been of interest to know the percent of France’s population who hail from the Maghreb don’t you think?

Or is that a sinister request?

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago

Macron never really had a plot, or plan. His idea was simply to become leader of the Eu when Merkel retired and to try to punish UK for leaving their club and potentially becoming wealthier and happier.
He will go the same way as the first Napoleon.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

The Germans will never let Macron be the EU leader, Merkel or no Merkel. They’d never let any Frenchman be the leader.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

Macron is highly vulnerable to losing in the first round as the French deliver a protest vote against the bankers’ candidate.

Philip MINNS
Philip MINNS
3 years ago

Joining the discussion about Macron and France, not about Brexit !!

Indeed, Macron is taking a political gamble by refusing, despite mounting medical pessure, a third lockdown. But surely no more of a political gamble than Boris Johnson by spacing out the jabs beyond what the manufacturers advocate. We shall have to wait for many months or even years to be able to make a proper comparison of the two countries’ different strategies. France has always been cautious on public health issues and sticking to the manfacturers’ basic instructions before more hard data becomes available is true to form. Macron’s utterances about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine (in English – and his English is not as good as he thinks it is !) sounded a litle silly but the fact is that there was little testing of the vaccine on the elderly in the Phase 3 trials, something Professor Pollard of Oxford University more or less admitted on the BBC this morning. And Germany adopted the same attitude on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine last week.

As far as the French “antivax” are concerned, they make loud noises in the media but the experience on the ground is that, now that vaccinations are starting, far more people want them than they told pollsters a few weeks ago.

One thing you didn’t mention in the article is that, unlike most other European countries, France has keept its schools open since the summer so as to keep working parents in work and the economy ticking over. Another bold choice which does not seem to have sent the number of cases soaring. It helps that, for once, France has a schools minister with a touch of steel who does not cave in at the first protest from the teaching unions. And although the media play up reports of clandestine restaurants and wild parties, my experience, living in France, is that most people take the rules seriously and abide by them. Some commentators have also focused on Macron’s “we’re all in this together and a lot depends on you” attitude, a little more unusual for France, where, it is generally thought, the heavy hand of authority is necesary to impose any restriction, triggering frequent accusations that people are treated like wayward kids. This time, Macron is taking a slightly more liberal approach, even if the police are not slow to sanction the few people who break the rules.

As for the presidential elections in 2022, they are more than a year away and if “a week is a long time in politics” as Harold Wilson used to say, 15 months is an eternity !

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

France is already the most vaccine-sceptic country in the world.

Maybe the French could have it as a suppository.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Cul suggestion!

andy young
andy young
3 years ago

Article written by a true Francophile! Biased, much.

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  andy young

I thought this piece was great.why are you being so butthurt

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Is that the same face mask that von der Leyen was looking at yesterday? No wonder she was looking at it with an air of quizzical disgust.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Perhaps she was looking at his hands instead of the mask. What was he reaching for, her throat or some… other things?

John Lamble
John Lamble
3 years ago

The article is marred by the inability of its author to escape the anti-British narrative himself. We know the French in general and Macron in particular have a profound neurosis about these islands so why bother to tell us. If Macron doesn’t have truths to tell about this country he tells lies. That’s not news.
Incidentally, I saw a documentary about Ms le Pen and if she still is a ‘far rightist’ she’s a very strange one. I’d label her a populist with a very odd mix of policies.

Noah Ebtihej Sdiri
Noah Ebtihej Sdiri
3 years ago

Just to give you a bit of context, almost every single one of my left-leaning friends aged between 25 and 50 said that they would not vote for Macron in the first and second round, even if Marine Le Pen came out first. Some are entertaining the idea to vote for Le Pen, animated by the nihilistic sentiment to bring down the “system.” The rest will surely abstain.

Macron is gambling on the rebuilding of a “front républicain” in 2022 where left-wing voters would automatically rally behind the president to avoid a Le Pen presidency. Unfortunately for Manue, his main redeeming factor, the novelty is gone. There is nothing intriguing about him anymore. A majority of French people have come to realize that he is just a younger, but also meaner iteration of the ruling-class.

Macron remains a pariah among a large portion of the population: blamed by the left for his neoliberal policies, despised by right-wing sovereignists for his pro-EU stance and his inability to reign in immigration.

Marine Le Pen may have the charisma of a rotten oyster but so many French citizens are fed up with Macron’s character and policies that it might be enough to push people to embrace more radical approaches.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago

I think Marine Le Pen has a fair chance of winning. People voted for Macron to keep her out last time, but that calculation might not work again. Macron has turned out to be childish, not that competent and very arrogant. He might just have cooked his own goose.

Mind you that said perhaps the French establishment will copy what was done in the USA recently where they resorted to crude election fraud to defeat President Trump and instal the usurper Biden.

valleydawnltd
valleydawnltd
3 years ago

“A couple of days earlier, Macron saw his most likely rival in next year’s election, the far-right leader Marine le Pen, creep to within 4 points of him (52 to 48%) in voting intentions in the two-candidate second-round in May next year.”

That magic ratio again…..

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago
Reply to  valleydawnltd

Other polls show Le Penn in the lead.
The writer hear shows his leanings, by describing Le Penn as “far right”. This means that she doesn’t agree with the views of the’Far Left’ who seem to control everything nowadays.
Le Penn actually says and wants for France, exactly the same as Sturgeon says for Scotland. Such as this writer has nothing but praise for the Sturgeon creature.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

Le Pen is is in the lead in the first round. Polls still show a lead for Macron in the run-off. But that lead is reducing with each passing week, with every job lost, with every shop closed, with every arrogant statement on the part of Macron…

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago
Reply to  valleydawnltd

Chirac defeated Le Pen pÚre 80-20. Macron defeated Le Pen fille 65-35, a significant reduction which was ignored during the enthusiasm for the new president. Le Pen has since re-named her party to try to make it more respectable but it’s still the old Front National tarred with racism and fascism which repels those French who would never vote for it in the same way that some Republicans would never vote for Trump under any circumstances. Those who believe the polls at any time delude themselves especially in fraught political times. There is no replacement for Macron who stands head and shoulders above French politics and certainly not Marine Le Pen. The gap may narrow again but he’ll be re-elected by default. As a speaker, he’s even smoother than Obama, btw.

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

Considering all the terrorism in France and anti white murders and hate,the constant “nique le France”.isn’t it time for Le Pen.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
3 years ago

All leaders have fallen in hock to opinion polls. It is impossible to progress a policy if the opinion polls “say NO”. The idea of a principled leader sticking with his beliefs has been swapped in most democracies with a figurehead intent on staying in power by keeping the voter on side. If that doesn’t work they can always impose martial law!

Pete the Other
Pete the Other
3 years ago

So Macron prepared by reading “reams” of evidence, both on the pandemic and presumably what the people wanted (opinion polls, etc.), and made up his mind accordingly (and apparently contrary to what the establishment around him thought).

This is a bad thing?

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

There also isn’t evidence to prove the efficacy of lockdowns

Vikram Sharma
Vikram Sharma
3 years ago

I am a doctor. I write under a pseudonym here because in today’s Free Britain, having the wrong opinions can cost me my job. And as an ethnic minority, I am supposed to be part of a lefty hivemind. If I disagree, I am the wrong kind of ethnic (like Priti Patel).So better to wear a mask than be exposed to the kinder gentler politics of the mob.
Death stats by country are bollocks on stilt. The fundamental principle in medical research is that to compare two entities (death rates, medicines, interventions) you must first control for confounders. Since we always have unknown unknowns, even once known confounders are controlled, the findings are interpreted cautiously. But in covid, we are willing to directly compare data based on completely different definitions, dissimilar measures, widely differing base populations, diverse healthcare systems and gross amounts of missing data. Two thirds of all global deaths were never recorded prior to the pandemic. Covid 19 has forced many countries to count mortality for the first time. Even within Europe, the definitions and ways of counting vary so widely that all comparisons are fraught. Yet so keen are we to land political punches on our opponents, we will gladly accept spurious data and selective interpretation as the truth.
We will find out in ten years time what the data really means. Meanwhile let’s keep thinking EU good Britain Bad. It satisfies the deep English urge (or at least the Guardian reading classes) to self-flagellate to orgasm.

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
3 years ago

If the restaurants and cafes are shut, and now shopping centres and non essential food shops are to shut and there is already a curfew, are the French not going to be in lockdown? Other than the schools remaining open (as they did here in our national lockdown last November) there seems little difference between the situation here and in France.
Macron is just playing with words.

Sarah Lambert
Sarah Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

The difference might not be enormous but life is almost bearable, in France people can see who they wish in their own homes. Universities were closed but are now open one day a week. All non essential shops are open except those in malls.

Pierre Whalon
Pierre Whalon
3 years ago

A rather skewed narrative, in fact. Macron did say for example that the variants may well require a renewed vaccination late in the fall or early next year, and that the government is already factoring that in. He has been repeating that we will have to learn stop live with the virus even with vaccines ” not a popular concept. As for the AZ vaccine, he was only repeating information that originally came from the German health service ” since seemingly corrected by real test results.

The other issue (besides touch of English jingoism) is the real political conundrum of vaccinating a nation that is leery of it. Not just because the French are all antivaxxers but because the new vaccines are well, new.

There is also a clear threat that massive disobedience of a third confinement would occur. I don’t think Macron has lost the plot. The plot keeps changing, just as it has with Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, and Donald Trump.

Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer
3 years ago

… the French President made a baseless public attack on a leading Covid vaccine and took a gamble against a third French lockdown ” a gamble which could ruin his chances of re-election in 15 months’ time.

I don’t think ANYONE remembers what any politician did after 2 months, let alone 15. About a year before an election is the time for a politician to make wild allegations which encourage his followers…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer

‘I don’t think ANYONE remembers what any politician did after 2 months, let along 15.’

I do. Never forget, never forgive.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

As the most recent edition of Private Eye received today points out in its Let’s Parler Français column, Manny’s claim that the “vaccin rosbif” doesn’t work for the over 65s is an ominous portent for his Granny, sorry, wife. As les citoyens rudes point out: “Elle est une goner!!”

One must, of course, hope this fate will not become Mme. Macron. But her husband’s agitating behind the scenes for a bigger role for Sanofi was another gamble based on French self-interest and manifests a distinct lack of that most overused EU stock expression: solidarité. His antics contributed to the delay in mobilising the EU vaccine response / rollout and may cause untold otherwise avoidable deaths.

I have never been a fan of the French industrial policy of national champions, having seen first hand that it is a device for the type of state aid they decry when proposed or practised by others (witness the recent Brexit negotiations). On the other hand, I had a sneaking admiration for a country prepared to stand up for / support its own companies rather than blithely sanction the sale of national assets to foreign bidders for short-term gain in the City.

But when political interference of this sort leads to potentially catastrophic public health consequences, it cannot be supported. Doubtless his comments and those of Clément Beaune-head reflect real frustration at France’s inability to make a mark in the global vaccine race (Sanofi is back to the drawing board and the Pasteur Institute has abandoned its work on a vaccine). But Macron’s promotion of French interests – a nationalist gamble – and the effect it has had may well come back to haunt his considerable ambitions.

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago

Macron’s anger about the efficacy of the virus for the over-65s may be connected to the age of his wife

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Vaccine or no, the French still get to experience a little pr#*k each day.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

So when i was singing

you can stick that vaxx with stars on up your a**e

I was of course advising the french to continue going down their preferred medical route

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago

Vaccinating almost an entire population across so many age cohorts is a massive logistical challenge.

Here in Canada I will be astonished if it can be completed within 10 months.

Andrew M
Andrew M
3 years ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

It’s quicker if you can get hold of the vaccines. I believe that is currently an issue for Canada.
That aside, in the UK the NHS has a big list. It just contacts everyone in turn and asks them to turn up on a certain day (I’m over-simplifying this, but bear with me). In the USA, I understand there is no list. All the state can do is say “We have some vaccines. Come and get it”. How is it in Canada? Like the UK or somewhere in between the 2?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew M

This is incorrect. Remember the US is a federal republic so there isn’t one system since the states run the vaccine program, not the federal government. In my state, you can get on a waiting list and you will be notified when your age/health condition group opens up. Once notified, you then go online and register for an appointment, after which they call you with one. This is for the state health departments which give vaccine in many locations with large spaces. There is also vaccine available in some states at pharmacies, like CVS. There you can go get on line if you want to.

Franj Lyons
Franj Lyons
3 years ago

You said the election will be held next April/May.
You later said it’ll be held in Spring next year.
So, is it 2021 or 2022?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Franj Lyons

2022

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

John writes: “Generous and early French furlough and economic support schemes … helped keep the loss of GDP last year to 8.3% compared to 11.3% in Britain.” The French economic performance pales besides America’s, with a 3.5% decline in GDP. So why did Trump lose!

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

“So why did Trump lose!”
He didn’t: he won by a landslide.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

The headline reminds me of my time in Paris as the Creative Director gradually went mad trying to reconcile various irreconcilable interests, not least my own. ‘Il a perdu le plot’ we Rosbifs explained to our bewildered French colleagues .

joe_falconer
joe_falconer
3 years ago

“What if Macron’s gamble last Friday fails? …. Cases and deaths explode just as they begin to fall elsewhere.”

What about if it succeeds and hospitalisations go down? Low vaccination rates taken up by those feeling vulnerable avoided by the rest? Imagine …. a successful “protect the vulnerable” strategy in action.

Looking forward to that discussion.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
3 years ago

A very odd piece. If ‘the plot’ means lockdown = good, then Macron was right to lose it. Lockdowns do not work – that much has been proved – and avoiding a third (there, see?) has probably improved the likelihood of compliance with basic sanitary measures.

As for the mortality statistics, their compilation criteria have been variously so arbitrary, political or just plain inaccurate that they are utterly untrustworthy.

There’s an expression in French along the lines of ‘Never put power in the hands of the army or the medical profession’, yet this is precisely what so many countries have done. The result is that we are no better off in February 2021 than we were in March, 2020: restaurants, theatres, cinemas, bars and museums remain closed, education and economies are in tatters and talk of sanitary restrictions for several years ahead are rife. Yet we continue to witness the autistic obsessions of those ‘correct-thinkers’ to spout their discredited credos (credi?) on MSM without a whiff of opposition, without even the merest hint of a chance of open, intelligent debate. Great Barrington Declaration, anyone?

However much we deride them, we elect politicians to govern. We do not expect them to roll over and hand over the running of the country to a group of people merely replying to a basic question: ‘How to limit the spread of a virus’.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago

Does anyone no how to delete a comment? I can’t work out how to self-delete this one (can only edit away the contents).

Last edited 3 years ago by Dan Poynton
modal08505
modal08505
3 years ago

The jab is controversial. First of all, not a vaccine. Second, mRNA therapy has never been approved for human use due to the fact that all animals in previous trials died when reinfected. These trials weren’t for covid. None have been done on those. Take at your own risk, big pharm has been granted liabilty immunity.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  modal08505

Ah, this is a splendid example of a particular sort of disinformation. Mind you, I’m not blaming the poster, who is no doubt repeating in all good faith something he saw once on the internet. The effective phrase is “all animals in previous trials died when reinfected”, and like the very best sorts of disinformation not completely false. Let’s look at the 2012 paper ‘Immunization with SARS Coronavirus Vaccines Leads to Pulmonary Immunopathology on Challenge with the SARS Virus’ which is the likely source of this little gem. All the mice in the study died exactly 58 days after reinfection. So, games over? Not quite. The reason they died on the 58th day, they were killed by the experimenters (“sacrificed” in the peculiar jargon) and dissected to examine the effects of the disease and treatment. So the more useful summary is “all animals in previous trials survived reinfection”. But in accordance with Brandolini’s Law, it takes longer to find the study and disentangle what really happened from the disinformation, and the explanation doesn’t fit into the Twitter limit.