Self-isolation rush after France's Macron catches COVID-19

French President Emmanuel Macron, 42, was tested after the 'onset of the first symptoms' and will now self-isolate for seven days in accordance with national regulations, his office said in a statement.

A picture taken on 16 December 2020 shows French President Emmanuel Macron addressing the press upon the arrival of Portuguese Prime minister for a working lunch at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. Picture: AFP.

PARIS - A host of European leaders and top French officials rushed into isolation on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for COVID-19, upending political agendas across the continent.

A flurry of contact-tracing followed France's confirmation that Macron had become the latest world leader to contract COVID-19, following the likes of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump.

Macron, 42, was tested after the "onset of the first symptoms" and will now self-isolate for seven days in accordance with national regulations, his office said in a statement.

"He will continue to work and carry out his activities remotely," the statement said.

An official added later that he was experiencing "light symptoms" which he had started to feel late Wednesday.

The timing is awkward for Macron, who is trying to handle the pandemic crisis in his own country while keeping a close eye on Brexit talks and a host of other international issues.

Officials emphasised he was still working and was taking part in a conference on economic development on Thursday afternoon.

Macron attended an EU summit in Brussels last week and on Monday went to a conference in Paris organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

European Council president Charles Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were both at the Paris conference and are isolating.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has also gone into self-isolation and cancelled all immediate events on his agenda after having lunch with Macron on Wednesday.

Macron has cancelled a scheduled trip to Lebanon, where he had been pressing for far-reaching political change after a giant explosion at Beirut's port in August.

DINNER WITH ALLIES

A source close to the French administration, who asked not to be named, said it was possible that Macron had contracted virus at an EU summit in Brussels last week.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel began isolating on Thursday pending a test result after he attended the EU summit.

But a German government spokeswoman said Chancellor Angela Merkel took a test a few days after the EU summit and it was negative.

It also emerged that Wednesday evening Macron had met a dozen political allies, including Prime Minister Jean Castex, over dinner.

The numbers present were double the maximum of six at a single table recommended by the government. But a source close to the administration insisted that the table had been large enough to ensure strict social distancing.

The source described the event at a "working meeting in the form of a dinner".

Castex will self-isolate after contact with Macron, his office said, adding that he was showing no symptoms and had tested negative.

He needs another confirmed negative result before he can come out of isolation next week.

Macron's wife Brigitte will also be self-isolating but also shows no symptoms and has tested negative.

Fellow world leaders rushed to wish Macron a speedy recovery.

"Sorry to hear my friend @EmmanuelMacron has tested positive for coronavirus. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery," tweeted Johnson, who has locked horns with Macron in recent months over the Brexit talks.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was with Macron "with all my heart".

"We are going to defeat this pandemic together," she said on Twitter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had learned of Maron's positive test "with alarm" and wished his French counterpart a "speedy recovery and good health for many years to come".

INFECTIONS STILL HIGH

Macron had repeatedly urged caution against the spread of the virus and in public always wears a face mask covering his mouth and nose.

France earlier this week eased restrictions imposed to battle the second wave of the coronavirus but infection rates remain high.

There is still a nationwide overnight curfew from 8:00 pm to halt the spread of the virus while restaurants and cafes, as well as theatres and cinemas, remain closed.

Over 59,300 people have died in France since the start of the pandemic.

More than 17,000 new cases were registered on Wednesday alone, generating concern as people shop and travel ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Like other EU countries, France is pinning its hopes on a vaccine. Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the EU would start inoculations on 27 December.

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