Thousands Protest Coronavirus Health Pass in France, Police Bracing for Clashes

Thousands of people protested in Paris and other French cities on July 31 against a mandatory coronavirus health pass introduced by the government.
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Protesters hold up signs that read 'no to the vaccine passport' during a demonstration in Paris [Michel Euler/AP]
Protesters hold up signs that read 'no to the vaccine passport' during a demonstration in Paris. Photo: AP

Most demonstrations were peaceful, but sporadic clashes with riot police marked protests in the French capital, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around Paris for a third weekend of protests against the pass that will be needed soon to enter restaurants and other places. Police took up posts along the Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue.

With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of Aug. 9. Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some are adamantly opposed. The pass requires a vaccination or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from Covid-19 and mandates vaccine shots for all health care workers by mid-September.

Paris police injured

Protestors stand in smoke flares in front of policemen during a demonstration in Lyon, central France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Demonstrators gathered in several cities in France on Saturday to protest against the COVID-19 pass, which grants vaccinated individuals greater ease of access to venues. (AP Photo/
Protestors stand in smoke flares in front of policemen during a demonstration in Lyon, central France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Photo: AP

Protesters injured three police officers in Paris, a police spokesperson said. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that 19 demonstrators were arrested, including 10 in Paris.

France 24 said it was the third weekend in a row that people opposed to President Emmanuel Macron's new Covid-19 measures have taken to the streets, an unusual show of determination at a time of year when many people are focused on taking their summer break.

The number of demonstrators has grown steadily since the start of the protests, echoing the "yellow vest" movement, that started in late 2018 against fuel taxes and the cost of living.

An interior ministry official said 204,090 had demonstrated across France, including 14,250 in Paris alone. This is about 40,000 more than last week.

“Liberty” slogan

Thousands Protest Coronavirus Health Pass in France, Police Bracing for Clashes
A protestor holds a sign which reads in French, "freedom" and "no to the Covid passport" as she attends a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Photo: AP

According to AP, “liberty” was the slogan of the day.

Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she resigned from her job, accusing the government of using a form of “blackmail.”

I think that we mustn’t be told what to do,” she said, adding that French medical workers during the first wave of Covid-19 were quite mistreated. “And now, suddenly we are told that if we don’t get vaccinated it is our fault that people are contaminated. I think it is sickening.”

Tensions flared in front of the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in northern Paris during what appeared to be the largest demonstration. Lines of police faced down protesters in up-close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists on several occasions.

Thousands Protest Coronavirus Health Pass in France, Police Bracing for Clashes
Protestors wave French flags and hold signs in front of a cardboard cutout of the Statue of Liberty during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, July 31, 2021. Photo: AP

As marchers headed eastward and some pelted police with objects, police fired tear gas into the crowds, plumes of smoke filling the sky. A male protester was seen with a bleeding head and a police officer was carried away by colleagues.

Among those not present this week is Francois Asselineau, leader of the tiny anti-EU Popular Republican Union party and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with Covid-19, Euronews said.

In a video on his party’s site, Asselineau, who was not hospitalized, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.

24,000 new daily cases

French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed July 30 night — compared to just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.

The government announcement that the health pass would take effect on August 9 after approval by the Constitutional Council has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t get shut down during the key summer holiday season.

Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52% of the French population has been vaccinated.

More than 111,800 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic./.

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