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Shrill protests in France as Macron targets unvaccinated in explosive language

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French President Emmanuel Macron has provoked outcries in parliament and protests from election rivals by using a vulgarity to describe his strategy for pressuring vaccine refusers to get coronavirus jabs.

Macron used the French word “emmerder,” rooted in the French word for “crap” and meaning to rile or to bug, in an interview published by French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday night. The president made the explosive remark as lawmakers are heatedly debating new measures that would allow only the vaccinated to enjoy leisure activities such as eating out.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to bug them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” Le Parisien quoted the French leader as saying in a sit-down interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of its readers.

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His use of earthy language more commonly heard at the counters of French cafés further complicated the already difficult passage in parliament of the government’s planned new vaccine pass. Lawmakers debated into early Wednesday morning before their discussions were again suspended, disrupted by the furor over Macron’s remarks.

The vaccine pass will exclude unvaccinated individuals from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas. The pass will also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and on domestic flights.

Opposition lawmakers protested audibly in the National Assembly chamber as Macron’s health minister, Olivier Veran, sought to defend the president’s choice of words.
Veran said Macron’s interview demonstrated his “intention, above all, to protect the population.”

Critics accused Macron of behavior unbecoming a president and of targeting the unvaccinated to win support from the 90% of French adults who are fully vaccinated. Opposition lawmaker Sébastien Jumel said Macron “deliberately chose to add hysteria to the debate.”

Macron is facing reelection in April.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who opposed the vaccine pass proposal, said the president wants “to wage war against a portion of the French.”

Another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, accused Macron of “cruelty.” On the far left, presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon asked: “Is the president in control of what he says?”
Macron’s supporters suggested the president simply expressed out loud what some vaccinated people already think about the non-vaccinated, in a country with bitter divides over the issue.

France reported a record-smashing 271,686 daily virus cases Tuesday as omicron infections race across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transportation, schools, and other services.

Macron’s government is straining to avoid a new economically damaging lockdown that could hurt his reelection prospects. Ministers are instead trying to rush the vaccine pass bill through parliament in hopes that it will be enough to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the country’s infection rates.

COVID-19 patients fill more than 72 percent of France’s intensive care unit ICU beds, and its once-renowned health care system is again showing signs of strain. Most virus patients in ICUs are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, though 77 percent of the French population has had at least two doses.

Read more: France sixth country with more than 10 million COVID-19 infections

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Saudi Arabia sees slight increase with 4,838 new COVID-19 cases

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Saudi Arabia saw a slight increase in the number of daily new COVID-19 cases after 4,838 new infections were recorded over the past 24 hours, the Ministry of Health announced on Monday.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Two COVID-19-related deaths were also reported, raising the death toll to 8,922 as of January 24.

Meanwhile, 6,296 people who had previously tested positive for the virus recovered, raising the recovery total to 606,130. A total of 657,192 infections have been reported in the Kingdom since the pandemic first started.

Despite Monday's cases being higher than the 4,535 reported on Sunday, Saudi Arabia has seen a decrease in daily infections after daily COVID-19 infections reached nearly 6,000 earlier this month.

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Saudi Arabia marks further drop in daily COVID-19 infections with 4,608 new cases

‘Wuhan, I Am Here’: Film follows volunteers in Chinese sealed city due to COVID-19

US to suspend 44 China-bound flights in response to restriction on American carriers

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Saudi Arabia records 4,535 COVID-19 cases, two deaths in 24 hours

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Saudi Arabia has recorded 4,535 new COVID-19 cases and two virus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

A total of 652,354 cases of coronavirus and 8,920 related deaths have been recorded in the Kingdom since the start of the pandemic.

There were also 5,072 recoveries in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 599,834.

Saudi Arabia has administered 55,226,399 vaccine doses to its population of around 34 million.

Daily case numbers peaked on January 19, when 5,928 were recorded.

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Saudi Arabia marks further drop in daily COVID-19 infections with 4,608 new cases

UAE reports 3,020 COVID-19 cases, four new deaths in 24 hours

Rio carnival postponed as COVID-19 cases surge in Brazil

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‘Wuhan, I Am Here’: Film follows volunteers in Chinese sealed city due to COVID-19

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The homeless, the sick, the elderly: For people who fell through the cracks of the official system, the then-unprecedented decision to isolate the central Chinese city of Wuhan and its 13 million people was a matter of life or death at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Film director Lan Bo hopes to sound the alarm with a documentary, “Wuhan, I Am Here,” about volunteers who helped neighbors get food and medical care following the lockdown in early 2020 of the city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The documentary comes as China has renewed similar lockdowns in three other cities since mid-December to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. The number of people confined to their homes totaled some 20 million people in early January.

The government’s decision to commandeer Wuhan’s hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients meant many people with other problems were turned away.

The film begins with a woman in tears outside a hospital that wouldn’t admit her husband for treatment of lung cancer. Volunteers secured a bed for him by talking with a Beijing hospital and working medical connections.

Other families struggled to get treatment for children with severe conditions.

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“At that time, medical resources focused on COVID-19 patients, so it wasn’t their turn” to be treated, said Lan.

“Those who needed dialysis, those who had cancer and AIDS patients who needed medicine,” said Lan. “In addition, patients in critical condition and needed to be hospitalized — what were they going to do? We were all thinking about these questions.”

The government sent truckloads of food daily to apartment compounds. But elderly people who couldn’t leave their homes and the homeless relied on volunteers to get food for them.

Lan chronicles the hurdles volunteers encountered. They needed permits to drive in different areas of Wuhan. They were stopped by local officials who said they lacked permission to distribute food and other supplies.

The lockdown of Wuhan, which spread to other Chinese cities, was later imitated by some Asian and Western governments as the virus spread.

China’s unusually stringent “zero tolerance” strategy that aimed to find and isolate every infected person helped to keep the country’s case numbers relatively low.

The National Health Commission has reported a total of 4,636 fatalities — and none since early 2021 — out of 105,484 confirmed cases.

In the latest lockdown, most access to Xi’an in the west and its 13 million people was suspended in mid-December.

The city government has been criticized for food shortages and the severity of anti-disease measures imposed under pressure from Beijing to bring down case numbers.

A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage after being turned away from a hospital, reportedly for lacking current COVID-19 test results.

Xi’an failed to learn from Wuhan about the importance of volunteers, Lan said.

Especially the pandemic in Xi’an, what I saw is the government’s neglect of civilian forces, which resulted in the lack of adequate treatment at the grassroots level,” Lan said.

“Why was Wuhan able to get through this?” Lan said. “I think in addition to our country and the government’s huge input into resources, it was also because of the contributions of the tens of thousands of volunteers that worked in obscurity.”

Lan has applied for government approval to release the “Wuhan, I Am Here” in China. It was screened at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan last year.

Under a lockdown, “it is this kind of daily life that sometimes determines the life and death of a person and determines the destiny of the person,” Lan said.

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