The embattled French President also alleged, again without any evidence, that the Anglo-Swedish drug giant and the British Government had engaged in “questionable behaviour” aimed at disrupting the flow of Covid-19 vaccines into Europe. Senior British officials said Mr Macron’s incendiary remarks exposed the “enormous political pressure” he was under at home.
His approval ratings have nosedived as a result of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and France’s disastrously slow vaccine roll-out programme and far-right leader Marine Le Pen is now outpolling him with Presidential elections looming in 2022.
Some critics suggested Mr Macron’s unfounded claims about the Astrazeneca drug and the UK’s conduct were attempts to deflect from his own failings as politicians and bureaucrats across the EU try to dodge responsibility for the ongoing vaccine debacle and Friday night’s hamfisted attempt to stop exports arriving in the UK via Ireland.
They also say the French leader has found it hard to accept Britain’s vaccine success story which began when a highly-effective drug was developed in record time by a team of brilliant scientists and researchers at Oxford University.
Mr Macron could only look on as the vaccine was swiftly approved by UK medicines regulators and then deftly delivered in a remarkable mass vaccination programme which has so far seen 11 percent of the population receive jabs compared with less than 1.9 percent in France.
The French, meanwhile, have failed to produce a vaccine of their own which has also sparked criticism of the country’s leadership.
The acclaimed Pasteur Institute abandoned its main vaccine research project last week after failing to make sufficient headway while French pharma group Sanofi has also admitted defeat and suspended research.
Macron ally François Bayrou tried to blamed the US for encouraging a French “brain drain” but was forced to admit: “It’s a sign of the decline of the country.”
The vaccine fiasco comes as France finds itself in deep recession after the coronavirus pandemic slashed total economic output by 8.3 percent.
Analysts said the figures were slightly better than the 9.0 percent shrinkage predicted by the official statistics office INSEE as the impact of a second lockdown in the latter part of the year was not as great as the first introduced last March.
But is still the country’s biggest economic downturn since World War Two.
The prime minister also said non-food shopping centres with a surface area of more than 20,000 square metres would be closed, home-working rules would be reinforced and that police would crack down on secret parties and illegal openings of restaurants.
He said: “The transgressions of a few will not be allowed to ruin the efforts of all.”
Mr Macron’s top scientific adviser on the epidemic warned last week that France would probably need to impose a third lockdown, possibly as early as the February school holidays, because of the circulation of new variants of the virus.