French President Emmanuel Macron took off his protective mask to clear his throat following a coughing fit during a speech with students at a lyceum in Clermont-Ferrand on Tuesday, with video of the incident published by French media.
😲 "Je vais mettre un masque plus léger parce que j’ai dû absorber un truc du masque"— Ouest-France (@OuestFrance) September 8, 2020
Pris par une quinte de toux, Emmanuel Macron doit changer de masque 😷 pic.twitter.com/7xYuW5ov2f
In the clip, while speaking to about equal opportunities for students, Macron suddenly suffers from a coughing bout, trying in vain to clear his throat and continue, but then stopping the speech altogether, taking off his mask and quipping “We maintain distance, but I’m choking.”
Macron then hands his mask to an assistant before being given a glass of water, coughing twice into his hand to clear his throat, and is given a new mask, which he puts on before asking “where did I stop?” and thanking students for their patience.
The president later said that he appeared to have “choked on a bit of this cloth mask,” and “decided to change [it] for a lighter one.” He added that he has recently had a test done to see if he had coronavirus, with the test coming back negative.
The incident sparked a backlash from the president’s critics online, with social media users ridiculing him over the discomfort he experienced, and pointing to the strict regulations requiring the wearing of masks in public places in regions across France, with violators facing stiff penalties.
Others pointed to the president’s apparent flouting of a months’ long public awareness campaign asking citizens to cough and sneeze into their elbow or mask instead of their hands.
In late August, after France recorded over 7,300 new infections in a single day, Paris authorities made wearing masks compulsory in all public areas, with only cyclists, runners and children under 11 exempted from the rules.
Macron recently told media that “nothing, in theory, can be excluded,” including a possible new nationwide lockdown, to try to battle rising coronavirus infection rates. He added, however, that his government would do everything it could to prevent a new lockdown by “learning to live with the virus.”
France has reported a total of 336,000 coronavirus cases since February, including over 88,000 recoveries and 30,764 deaths, with an estimated 0.005 percent of the country of 66.99 million reported to be infected in that time.