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Who has to self-isolate after Macron’s Covid-19 diagnosis?

With news that French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19 anyone he has recently met will need to self-isolate - and that includes a host of European heads of state as well as French politicians.

Who has to self-isolate after Macron's Covid-19 diagnosis?
Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte both need to self-isolate after his Covid-19 diagnosis. Photo: AFP

Macron tested positive on Thursday after developing symptoms, his office said, adding that he has shown only mild symptoms.

The president, 42, will self-isolate and continue to work remotely, the Elysée added.

But anyone who has recently been in close contact with him may also need to self-isolate for seven days before getting tested for the virus. The French health system defines a cas contact (contact case) as a person who has been within 1m or who has spent more than 15 minutes in a room with a positive case, in the absence of a mask.

The government suggested that Macron may have become infected while attending an EU summit in Brussels last week.

 

Macron greets Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Photo: AFP

So who does that include?

Brigitte Macron – the president's wife. Brigitte, 67, has no symptoms but has been declared a contact case so will self-isolate. She had already self-isolated in October after coming into contact with a potential case, but tested negative. She also tested negative earlier in the week after a paying a visit to a hospital, according to French media. She has remained in the Elysée while Macron has travelled to La Lanterne, a hunting lodge on the Versailles estate that is an official residence of the French president.

Jean Castex – the prime minister. France's president and prime minister work closely together and have scheduled weekly lunches. Castex has already announced that he is a contact case and will self isolate.

Richard Ferrand – the head of the French parliament, Assemblée nationale. He had lunch at the Elysée on Tuesday and has declared himself a contact case.

The whole French government? The French Defence Council, which considers the latest Covid measures, and the Council of Ministers both met on Wednesday morning in meetings attended by Macron. However, the government says they are not considered contact cases because the meetings maintained the full protocol of gestes barrières (hygiene gestures) masks and physical distancing.

Alexis Kohler – Secretary General of the Elysée. The chief of staff at the presidential Elysée Palace has declared himself a contact case.

Marc Fesneau – the minister in charge of relations with the French parliament has also announced that he is self isolating.

Macron with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Photo: AFP

Antonio Costa – the prime minister of Portugal. The Portuguese president met Macron for lunch at the Elysée on Wednesday.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – the president of Egypt. The Egyptian president was hosted – controversially – by Macron earlier in he month. But as his visit took place on December 7th he may not need to self-isolate.

Charles Michel – president of the European Council. Macron on Monday hosted an event in Paris to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),where he had lunch with Council president Michel.

Pedro Sanchez – prime minister of Spain. Also at the meal was the Spanish PM.

Angel Gurria – secretary general of the OED, was also president at the lunch.

Xavier Bettel – prime minister of Luxembourg. Bettel's office said he was self-isolating pending test results, as he had attended the same EU summit as Macron. Spokesmen for German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said they did not consider self-isolation necessary.

Alexander De Croo – prime minister of Belgium. His office also said he would self-isolate as a precaution.

Gérard Larcher – the president of the French Senate  has so far not been declared a contact case, but according to protocol he is the person who takes over if the French president dies.

 

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
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