Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across France for the fifth straight week to demonstrate against the government’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine passport mandate.
An estimated 215,000 people joined the protests in Paris, Nice, Marseille and other French cities. That was slightly down from the 237,000 people who demonstrated the previous week, according to France’s Ministry of the Interior. The fourth week of protests was the largest and included marches in Paris, Nice, Montpellier and Lyon, where police used tear gas on protesters who threw objects at police.
Roughly 1,600 police officers were deployed over the weekend for three separate marches in Paris. Authorities didn’t provide information on whether there were any arrests.
The protesters were opposing mandatory vaccination for health care workers and the use of health passes to access many public indoor activities. They often chanted “freedom,” “pass equals apartheid” and “take back your pass,” referring to the vaccine passport.
Some French citizens told media outlets that the COVID-19 passports limit their freedoms and are a way to segregate society for political purposes, rather than health reasons. The French Parliament approved the COVID-19 health pass law in late July. The country’s top court upheld the law earlier this month, as well as a law mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health workers.
The new regulations endorsed by French President Emmanuel Macron made it obligatory to have a full course of vaccination against COVID-19, a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy routine activities. Macron, who faces re-election next year, hopes to encourage all French to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and thereby defeat the virus and its fast-spreading delta variant.
Beginning Aug. 9, a health pass was required in France to eat in a restaurant or enjoy a drink at a cafe – both indoors and on a terrace. It was also required on inter-city transport, including high-speed trains and domestic flights. The health pass is not needed on metro systems and suburban transport. (Related: Vaccine passports just became a reality in France.)
Establishments that fail to enforce the rules will face penalties while employees could face pay suspensions if they fail to get vaccinated. A health pass will also be required for non-urgent visits to medical facilities. Young people ages 12 to 17 are exempted from the rules until Sept. 3.
The pass has already been required since July 21 to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theaters and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Aug. 5.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the pass, which under current rules will be required until Nov. 15, is needed to avoid further restrictions amid a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some media outlets claimed the protests were part of the “anti-vax” movement, but many French demonstrators have said they support the vaccines but not the restrictions. “I am for the vaccine and had it months ago, but not the health pass, which is discriminatory,” one protester said.
Critics argue the rules encroach on civil liberties in a country where individual freedom is highly prized.
Florian Philippot, former vice president of the National Front and one of the leading opponents of the health pass, claimed that “there are many constitutional principles that are trampled underfoot by this law.”
“So far on the COVID crisis, the Constitutional Council has not been noted for its ability to go against the decisions of the government, to say the least,” he said.
There were also demonstrations in Quebec, Canada, which recently mandated COVID-19 vaccine passports for restaurants, bars and gyms. (Related: Quebec plans to push vaccine passports, citing the delta variant as justification.)
“It should be the choice of each person whether to be vaccinated. With the passports, it is a means of forcing us [to get vaccinated],” said Veronique Whalen of Montreal, the most populous city in the province of Quebec.
Protests were also held recently in several Italian cities against the introduction of new measures requiring proof of COVID-19 status to attend indoor events.
The green pass, an extension of the European Union’s digital COVID certificate, became compulsory in Italy earlier this month to enter cinemas, museums and indoor sports venues or to eat indoors at restaurants. School and university staff, as well as university students, also need the pass to enter the campus. The pass will be required on domestic flights and long-distance trains starting Sept. 1.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome shouting “No Green Pass!” and “Freedom!” Thousands more marched in Milan. Around 100 people from the “No Vax” movement also gathered in Naples, objecting specifically the vaccinations for children. They were shouting “Hands off the children” and “Shame! Shame!”
The green pass proves bearers have either been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours.
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