Paris (CNN)French President Emmanuel Macron has said he "really wants to piss off" unvaccinated people, intensifying a heated political debate over strict new rules for those who have refused the shot.
Macron says he wants to 'piss off' the unvaccinated, as tensions rise over new French vaccine pass
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday, Macron said: "I'm not for pissing off the French ... Now the unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we're going to keep doing it, until the end. This is the strategy."
His remarks drew swift and angry condemnation from opposition lawmakers, who were debating Macron's proposed new set of rules for unvaccinated people that would ban them from much of public life.
A parliamentary debate over the bill was suspended in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and will restart later in the day, raising doubts over whether the stricter vaccine pass will take effect by the government's intended January 15 deadline.
The proposed legislation would replace France's health pass with a vaccine pass, meaning proof of vaccination is necessary for access to a range of everyday activities, from entering restaurants and bars to traveling inside the country. It would no longer accept proof of a negative test or recent recovery from Covid.
"I'm not going to put them in jail, I'm not going to forcibly vaccinate them, and so, you have to tell them: from January 15, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant, you will no longer be able to have a drink, go for a coffee, to the theater, you will no longer go to the movies," Macron told Le Parisien.
Macron described those opposed to vaccination as "irresponsible," adding that "they undermined the strength of a nation."
"When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible," he said. "An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen."
His remarks were immediately seized on by his rivals in this year's presidential election. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Twitter that "a president shouldn't say that," calling Macron "unworthy of his office" and claiming he wants to make unvaccinated people "second-class citizens."
The controversy came amid a tense debate in France over how to deal with the unvaccinated minority of the population.
Parliamentarian Patricia Miralles told CNN affiliate BFMTV that she has received dozens of threats since the first parliamentary discussions on the health pass in July 2021. Another legislator, Ludovic Mendes, told the news channel that as an elected official, he has faced "permanent hate, constant death threats" from some members of the public since the beginning of the pandemic.
France has vaccinated around 74% of its total population, one of the higher rates in the EU. But it has been heavily hit by the more transmissible Omicron variant, and has reported record infections in recent days.
It registered 271,686 new cases on Tuesday, its highest load to date. Hospitalizations also reached their highest rate since May, with 20,186 Covid patients being cared for.
Much of Europe is facing similar sky-high figures as Omicron sweeps through its populations. The UK and Italy both also saw record rates of infections on Tuesday, and Germany's caseload increased sharply on last week.
But countries are taking varying approaches in light of Omicron's reduced severity. Several European states imposed new restrictions over the Christmas period, with Italy implementing an outdoor mask mandate and the Netherlands going into lockdown. Meanwhile in England, where vaccine passes for some settings were introduced in early December, the UK's health secretary said Tuesday that "no further restrictions" were needed.