President Emmanuel Macron of France, left, welcomes Prime Minister Antonio Costa of Portugal to the Elysee Palace before a working lunch in Paris on Wednesday. Macron subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 and started a period of self-isolation. FRANCOIS MORI/AP

President to continue affairs of state during 7-day period of self-isolation

President Emmanuel Macron of France is to go into isolation for a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19, the Elysee Palace has announced.

No more details of his condition have been released but he will continue to conduct government business remotely. His planned visit to Lebanon on Dec 22 has been cancelled.

On Wednesday, Macron hosted a Cabinet meeting and had a working lunch with Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa, and, on Monday, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and European Council President Charles Michel were at the palace. As a consequence, Sanchez too is to go into quarantine until Dec 24.

Earlier this week, France began to lift national lockdown restrictions imposed to deal with the second wave of infection, but a night time curfew is still in force, and the infection level remains high.

According to figures supplied by Johns Hopkins University on Dec 14 and quoted by the BBC, France has had 2,376,852 cases of COVID-19 and 57,911 deaths during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that is already being deployed in the United Kingdom could start to be used in France by the last week of December, subject to approval by the European Medicines Agency, which has brought forward a meeting on the topic from Dec 29 to Dec 21.

France has pre-ordered 200 million doses, Castex added. Once approved, the vaccine will be given to around 1 million people in nursing homes in January and February, with around 14 to 15 million others vaccinated in subsequent months.

As a result of having had contact with Macron, Castex will also go into isolation, meaning his planned speech to the Senate on Thursday, outlining government strategy to combat the pandemic, has been cancelled.

Macron joins United States President Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as world leaders who have been treated for the virus.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, also tested positive early in the pandemic, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced into isolation after her doctor caught it.

In England, millions more people, predominantly in the South and Southeast, will be living under Tier 3 restrictions from Saturday after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a revision of regional categories.

Bristol and North Somerset in the Southwest of the country will move from Tier 3 to Tier 2, with Herefordshire moving from Tier 2 to join the small number of regions in Tier 1, but many counties around Greater London will enter Tier 3.

That means indoor entertainment venues will be closed, with pubs and restaurants only able to offer takeaway services. The revisions mean 68 percent of the population of England will be living under the highest level of restriction, with just 2 percent in the lowest Tier 1.

“As we enter the coldest months we must be vigilant and keep this virus under control,” said Hancock, who urged people to take personal responsibility for their behavior.

“It’s so vital that everyone sticks at it and does the right thing, especially over this Christmas period,” he added.

In the South of England, the number of cases has risen in the last week by 46 percent, with hospital admissions up by one-third.

“We’ve come so far, we mustn’t blow it now,” said Hancock. “These are always the most difficult months for people’s health.”