French Prime Minister Jean Castex was appointed for ruthless behavior, tested positive for COVID-19

French Prime Minister Jean Castex makes a statement following a Belgian-French security advisory meeting at Egmont Palace in Brussels on 22 November.Olivier Matthys / The Associated Press

After being tested positive for COVID-19, the French Prime Minister is singled out on social media and further as an example of what not to do in the pandemic.

Several videos are circulating of a maskless Prime Minister Jean Castex vigorously shaking hands with elected officials in an enclosed space at a mayoral congress in Paris on 16 November. Many people point out that it goes against France’s official position that everyone should continue to take preventive measures, especially when infections increase.

They also noted that Castex, which tested positive on Monday, had called the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe “irresponsible” in enforcing COVID-19 measures, as he himself did not comply with the rules.

The Prime Minister’s Office said the issue was being used for political purposes and that he was “trying to respect the rules as much as possible.”

Castex’s office says the 56-year-old prime minister tested positive after his 11-year-old daughter became infected with the virus and is self-isolating for 10 days. Castex was vaccinated in the spring, but his daughter has not been vaccinated because vaccines are not approved in the EU for those under 12. Approval is expected this week.

Gabriel Attal, spokesman for the French government, had jumped to Castex’s defense when the videos first began circulating. “We are all only human,” he said.

But Castex’s positive test – just hours after a trip to Brussels and a meeting with Belgian ministers – is a potential embarrassment for the French government and for President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the April presidential election.

Castex developed a mild cough overnight but plans to continue working in isolation, an official at his office said Tuesday. Asked about the incident on November 16, the official said Castex washed his hands with disinfectant between each handshake.

The official also noted that a health passport was required to enter the event, proving that people have been fully vaccinated, or have received a new negative test, or have recently recovered from the virus.

Experts say Castex’s behavior is a sign of a broader decline in vigilance, now that most of France’s population has received vaccine shots. Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne warned against complacency this month, acknowledging that “perhaps we are a little overdue, barrier measures are being less respected.”

Infections and virus-related hospitalizations and deaths have been on the rise in France in recent weeks, and the government is stepping up health card enforcement and urging people to get booster shots.

As a result of Castex’s positive test, several other French ministers are self-isolating and awaiting test results, including European Minister Clement Beaune, who deleted an Instagram photo of him laughing at Castex without wearing a mask.

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