More than 230,000 people marched Saturday in cities across France to protest measures meant to counter the spread of the coronavirus, including vaccines for health care workers and a health pass needed to access many public indoor activities.
The fourth week of protests was also the largest and included marches in Paris, Nice, Montpellier and Lyon, where police used tear gas on protesters who threw objects at police. The measures have brought together France’s hard-left anarchists and hard-right militants, according to Reuters.
Health care workers have until September 15 to get their shots or face suspension.
"I'd rather not be paid than be forced to have the vaccine," hospital psychiatrist Diane Hekking told Reuters as she protested in Paris.
The health pass shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19. A pass will be needed starting Monday and will allow people into cafes, restaurants, travel on intercity trains and nonemergency care at hospitals. It was already needed for cinemas, concert halls, sports arenas and theme parks that hold more than 50 people, according to The Associated Press.
Most people in France support the heath pass, according to recent polls.
And, since President Emmanuel Macron introduced plans for the pass on July 12, vaccination rates have jumped. About 54% of the population is fully vaccinated and at least 7 million have gotten their first shot.
"We're not against the vaccine. We're against having to run checks on our patrons," bar manager Laurent Zannier said Saturday in the town of Cambrai, where nearly every restaurant and cafe was closed in protest.
In the past month, France has reported nearly 469,000 cases of coronavirus and nearly 900 deaths. Since the pandemic began, it leads Europe with more than 6.3 million cases and 112,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
France isn’t the only European country to turn to health passes.
Italy's “Green Pass” took effect on Friday. Denmark pioneered vaccine passes with little resistance. In Austria, the pass is needed to enter restaurants, theaters, hotels, sports facilities and hairdressers, the AP said.
But in Poland, thousands marched Saturday in protest as the government debated whether to restrict unvaccinated people, Reuters reported.
In the past month, Poland has reported nearly 3,300 new cases of coronavirus and 167 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Record in Australia
Authorities in Australia reported a record number of COVID-19 infections, including two deaths Saturday, mainly in New South Wales, and urged people to stay at home to minimize a further spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state had recorded 319 locally acquired cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number of new cases in the state since the beginning the pandemic.
"We need to make sure that we stay at home,” Hazzard said, and go out only when it is absolutely necessary, “to make sure that we beat this delta virus that is wreaking havoc across the world."
The neighboring state of Victoria recorded 29 new infections, the highest daily total this year. The state declared a seven-day lockdown earlier this week.
Victoria Premier Dan Andrews also urged people to leave home only for essential work, shopping, care, vaccination or two hours for outdoor exercise.
"This delta variant spreads so fast," Andrews said, "we don't have enough people vaccinated. We will finish up with younger people in the hospital, otherwise fit and healthy people. Our system will be overrun if we don't bring this under control."
Queensland state, which recorded 13 new cases, planned to lift its lockdown Sunday afternoon.
According to Reuters, Thailand on Saturday reported 21,838 coronavirus cases and 212 deaths, both records, data from the country's COVID-19 task force showed.
Thailand’s slow-moving vaccination program led to clashes Saturday between more than a thousand anti-government protesters and police. Protesters were in the streets of Bangkok demonstrating about the government’s failure to contain coronavirus outbreaks and the damage to the economy.
As of midafternoon Saturday EDT, there were nearly 202 million infections and 4.4 million deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The U.S. continued to lead the world in cases, with more than 35.7 million, and fatalities, with more than 616,000, according to Johns Hopkins.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.