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French President Macron tests positive for COVID-19

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a screen as he attends by video conference a round table for the National Humanitarian Conference (NHC), taken at the Foreign Ministry in Paris,Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday following a week in which he met with numerous European leaders. The French and Spanish prime ministers and EU Council president were among many top officials self-isolating because they had recent contact with him. (Charles Platiau/Pool via AP)

PARIS – Wearing a white medical mask, French President Emmanuel Macron went ahead with a planned speech by videoconference Thursday, hours after testing positive for COVID-19 following a week in which he met with numerous European leaders.

The French and Spanish prime ministers and the EU Council president were among many top officials self-isolating because they had recent contact with him.

Macron took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared" on Thursday morning and will self-isolate for seven days, in line with national health authorities' recommendations, the presidency said in a brief statement. It did not detail what symptoms Macron experienced or what treatment he might be receiving.

The 42-year-old president "will continue to work and take care of his activities at a distance,” the statement added. His wife, Brigitte, 67, tested negative on Thursday. She has no symptoms and will self-isolate as a precaution, her office said.

On Thursday afternoon, Macron took part, as planned, in a roundtable on French aid to the world's poorest countries — but via videoconference instead of attending in person.

Wearing a high-protection, medical-grade mask — instead of the fabric versions emblazoned with the French flags he often wears — he showed no apparent sign of being affected by the disease, speaking in a clear, loud voice. He did not mention the virus in his speech.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said contact tracing efforts were in progress. He said Macron started to feel symptoms overnight and that he will keep working from the Elysee presidential palace.

“The virus has been circulating in France and worldwide for several months and the presidency and government are used to working in these circumstances,” Attal said.

Macron joined a growing list of leaders who have tested positive for the virus, including U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Trump called Macron on Thursday evening to get some news and wish him a speedy recovery, the Elysee palace said, adding that dozens of other world leaders expressed their support via messages and phone calls.

France has a tradition of keeping strict medical privacy, including for top officials, and Macron once said he would release health information only when justified by the impact it could have on his presidency.

Macron, and people in his entourage, have rarely been seen in public without a mask in recent months. The French president usually only removes it when making a speech or at a press conference when he is at safe distance from others. For several months, masks have been required in all indoor public places in France and everywhere outdoors in big cities.

The president has had multiple in-person meetings in recent days at home and in Brussels where he attended a European Union summit at the end of last week.

Macron's health minister, Olivier Veran, singled out the Brussels meeting as the possible source of infection.

Macron “apparently wasn’t contaminated during a lunch or dinner at the Elysee but seemingly, according to what we hear, at least possibly” at the summit, Veran said, adding that European leaders had shared supper in a big room in Brussels.

Some have questioned Macron's many activities as the country is implementing strict anti-virus measures, including a lockdown since October that was only partially lifted on Tuesday and now includes a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. All restaurants and bars, tourist sites and many other public places remain closed.

“Zero risk doesn’t exist. We are all equal in the face of this disease,” said Thomas Mesnier, a lawmaker from Macron’s party and emergency doctor by training.

EU leaders met in person on Dec 10-11, for the first time since October, as the summit involved key negotiations on the EU's long-term budget and recovery fund and climate-related policies. The media was kept away from the summit venue, but television images showed leaders wearing masks, generally keeping good distancing — preferring elbow bumps to the usual handshakes, kisses and hugs — and occasionally using hand gel dispensers in the room.

“We have not been informed of any other participant or staff present during the summit who tested positive," said an EU official, who was not allowed to be identified publicly.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was found negative after taking a test Thursday morning. Sánchez had been with Macron on Monday in Paris and will remain in isolation until Dec. 24.

The prime minister of Portugal, António Costa, who had lunch with Macron on Wednesday, also tested negative Thursday.

European Council President Charles Michel and other EU top officials are placing themselves in self-isolation as a precaution.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had a bilateral meeting with Macron in Brussels, took a test a few days after the European summit as a matter of routine and it was negative, her office said.

Macron's positive test also led several high-profile French politicians and government officials to self-isolate as a precaution.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex's office said that he tested negative Thursday but would self-isolate for seven days.

Several politicians who attended a lunch or a dinner at the Elysee palace recently described strict sanitary protocols, with guests placed around a very big table and speaking into a microphone to be able to maintain distance between them. Some said they have been informed by the presidency they are not considered as having been in close contact with the president, because they were too far away.

Macron’s positive test comes as French health authorities are again seeing an uptick in infections and warning of more while French families prepare to get together for Christmas and New Year festivities. France reported another 18,254 new infections Thursday and its death toll is just under 60,000.

Macron has always been an active president who travels frequently. He has scaled down his activities somewhat this year but continued holding in-person meetings in Paris, other French cities and in Brussels. He welcomed Egypt's president on a state visit to France earlier this month.

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Elaine Ganley, Angela Charlton and John Leicester in Paris, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Lorne Cook and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Ciaran Giles in Madrid and David Rising in Berlin contributed.