After a slow start, the European Union has now overtaken the United States in vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19. Anti-vaccine resistance remains, including in France, where officials estimate more than 200,000 people joined demonstrations this weekend to protest a mandatory health pass.
Brandishing banners proclaiming “freedom” and “pass of shame,” tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Paris and other French cities Saturday against government measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and the disease it causes, COVID-19.
While many of the protests were peaceful, several police officers were wounded trying to keep order in Paris. In the southern city of Marseille, demonstrators destroyed a coronavirus testing tent, shouting “assassins” and “collaborators.”
The demonstrations marked the third straight weekend of protests and were the biggest so far. Some protesters have worn yellow Stars of David similar to those Jews were forced to wear in the former Nazi Germany — a move slammed by Holocaust survivors. The protesters included members of the far left and far right, and those representing the yellow vest economic justice movement born a few years ago.
“We’re protesting the government system that’s been in place for decades,” one protester told French radio, calling new coronavirus measures another example of bad government.
The new policies aim to fight the sharply rising tide of infections, driven by the highly contagious delta variant. Among them: making COVID vaccines mandatory for health workers and requiring health passes showing people have been vaccinated or tested negative for the infection, to gain access to restaurants, movie theaters, trains and tourist venues.
President Emmanuel Macron has said he respects the right to protest, but that vaccinations are an essential arm to fight the coronavirus — and that French also have responsibilities along with rights, and civic duties.
Unvaccinated people now comprise about 85% of hospitalizations in France, and 78% of COVID-19 linked deaths. But some here are still skeptical or worried about the shot.
While supporting the new health pass, conservative lawmaker Philippe Bas told French radio Sunday the government must strengthen public confidence.
Like France, Italy has seen protests against vaccines and other measures to curb the pandemic. The public response, however, has been more positive elsewhere in Europe, including in Denmark and Spain.
And despite demonstrations here, polls show the majority of French back the health pass. More than half are now fully vaccinated. Macron, who faces reelection next year, has also seen his approval rating rise in recent months over his handling of the pandemic.
Some information for this report came from AFP, Reuters, Radio France, Europe 1, France 24, France Television & Le Monde.