Macron warns of ‘difficult’ weeks ahead but encourages ‘optimism’ in New Year’s speech

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said the next few weeks would be difficult as the country headed into subdued New Year celebrations after registering 232,200 new Covid-19 cases over the last 24 hours (31/12), its highest-ever recorded total.

“The weeks to come will be difficult, we all know that,” Macron said in a broadcasted New Year’s Eve address.

New Covid infections over the last 24 hours were above 200,000 for the third day running, making France one of the epicentres as a wave linked to the Omicron variant sweeps Europe.

Infections in France, one of the countries carrying out widespread testing, stood well above the tally recorded in Italy and Britain, which also reported new records on Friday, with 144,243 and 106,122 cases respectively.

In Paris, the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display centred on the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées has been cancelled because city authorities said they feared it would lead to large crowds of people unable to observe social distancing. Dancing at hospitality venues and nightclubs has also been forbidden.

Nonetheless, President Macron said that he remained “optimistic” for the future.

“Despite the challenges we have faced, France is stronger now than two years ago,” he said, citing measures the government has introduced during the crisis including unemployment reforms and various initiatives to protect spending power.

He reiterated his call for mass vaccination, calling the jabs France’s “sure shot” solution to overcome the current wave of Covid-19 and “maintain economic activity” while “avoid taking measures that weigh down on our freedoms”.

“2022 could be the year that we exit the pandemic. I want to believe that,” he said.

Macron did not mention a need for more restrictive health measures than those already announced, adding that the government should refrain from further limiting people’s individual freedoms.

He also refused to confirm in his address whether he would run for a second presidential term in 2022, as is widely expected. He will continue to continue to serve France “whatever my role” after the election in April, he said.