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17 December 2020

Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19 – what happens now?

The French president’s self-isolation is unlikely to significantly affect the Brexit negotiations.

By Ido Vock

French president Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19, his office has announced. He is the latest in a series of world leaders to catch coronavirus, including Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

Macron will now self-isolate for seven days. His prime minister, Jean Castex, a close contact, is also in self-isolation. The president’s office says “he will continue to work and carry out his activities remotely”. A planned visit to Lebanon has been cancelled.

Macron, 42, is not in any obvious risk groups, so may not suffer significant symptoms. Nonetheless, in the event that he becomes seriously ill, the president of the Senate Gérard Larcher, of the Republicans, would be called upon to exercise Macron’s functions as interim president.

[see also: Why the EU would prefer a no-deal Brexit to a deal undermining the European social model​]

Macron’s diagnosis comes just days after France lifted its nationwide lockdown, replacing it with an 8pm curfew and allowing non-essential shops to open in advance of Christmas, although bars, restaurants and cultural spaces remain closed. The strict lockdown, which required people to carry a signed declaration justifying their reason for leaving the house, succeeded in cutting infection rates from a record high of more than 50,000 daily confirmed cases in early November to around 10,000 in mid-December.

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With just two weeks left until the UK leaves the EU’s structures, and with no Brexit deal currently agreed, some might ask whether Macron’s diagnosis and self-isolation requirements will change the state of play. Most likely not. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has had a mandate from the EU’s member states and the European Commission for years, which remains relatively unaffected by domestic political developments.

However, Macron’s diagnosis could conceivably make some difference in the event that the president is taken ill seriously enough to require Larcher to step in just as the UK leaves, with or without a deal. In this case, Larcher would be required to decide on domestic policy to manage the fallout, dealing with issues such as lorry queues in Calais. But this remains a remote possibility.