Waving banners proclaiming “freedom” and the “pass of shame”, tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday in Paris and other French cities against government measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic and the disease that ‘it causes, COVID-19.
While many protests were peaceful, several police officers were injured while trying to maintain order in Paris. In the southern city of Marseille, demonstrators destroyed a coronavirus screening tent, shouting “murderers” and “collaborators”.
The protests marked the third consecutive weekend of protests and were the largest to date. Some protesters wore yellow Stars of David similar to those Jews were forced to wear in former Nazi Germany – a move criticized by Holocaust survivors. The protesters included members of the far left and far right, as well as representatives of the yellow vests movement for economic justice that was born a few years ago.
“We are protesting against the government system which has been in place for decades,” a protester said on French radio, calling the new coronavirus measures another example of bad government.
The new policies are aimed at tackling the rising tide of infections, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Among them: making COVID vaccines mandatory for health workers and requiring health cards showing people have been vaccinated or tested negative for infection, to access restaurants, cinemas, trains and tourist spots.
President Emmanuel Macron has said he respects the right to protest, but that vaccinations are an essential arm in the fight against the coronavirus – and that the French also have responsibilities as well as civic rights and duties.
Unvaccinated people now represent around 85% of hospitalizations in France and 78% of deaths linked to COVID-19. But some here are still skeptical or worried about the shooting.
While supporting the new health pass, conservative lawmaker Philippe Bas told French radio on Sunday that the government needed to build public confidence.
Like France, Italy has seen protests against vaccines and other measures to curb the pandemic. Public reaction, however, has been more positive elsewhere in Europe, notably in Denmark and Spain.
And despite the protests here, polls show the majority of French people support the health pass. More than half are now fully vaccinated. Macron, who risks re-election next year, has also seen his approval rating increase in recent months due to his handling of the pandemic.
Some information for this report came from AFP, Reuters, Radio France, Europe 1, France 24, France Television and Le Monde.