Police in Paris fired tear gas and made arrests as they tried to disperse demonstrators, many of them sceptical of vaccines, the so-called “anti-vaxxers“, who marched throughout France over new coronavirus restrictions.
Some of the protests began as early as Wednesday morning in Paris as the annual military parade for the traditional Bastille Day parade, watched by President Emmanuel Macron, was taking place along the Champs-Elysees.
The protests went on into Wednesday night, with protesters captured on video clips posted on social media, also aiming fireworks at police.
The demonstrators, many of them unmasked, are unhappy at the decision announced on Monday to oblige health workers to get vaccinated and for people to show a vaccine health pass to enter most public places. Those who are not vaccinated would need to show a negative test result.
The announcement prompted a record number of French people to book appointments for COVID-19 jabs.
“This is in the name of freedom” was the message from some of the protesters.
In one area of the French capital police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The declared route was not respected, the prefecture of police said in a tweet, deploring the “throwing of projectiles” and lighting of fires by the protesters.
Throughout Paris some 2,250 people protested, while other demonstrations took place in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nantes and elsewhere. The French authorities put the total number of protesters at 19,000.
The interior ministry said that there were 53 different protests throughout France.
“Down with dictatorship”, “Down with the health pass” protesters chanted.
One of them, Yann Fontaine, a 29-year-old notary’s clerk from the Berry region in central France, said he had come to demonstrate in Paris arguing that the health pass was equivalent to “segregation”.
“Macron plays on fears, it’s revolting. I know people who will now get vaccinated just so that they can take their children to the movies, not to protect others from serious forms of COVID,” he said.
Police shut down the anti-Emmanuel Macron protest in Paris. Demonstrators are angry the president announced COVID “passports” for entry in restaurants, shopping centers, bars & other businesses. pic.twitter.com/gTFPzc5eSv
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) July 14, 2021
“There isn’t any vaccine obligation, this is maximum inducement,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said then.
“I have a hard time understanding, in a country where 11 vaccines are already mandatory … that this could be seen as a dictatorship,” he said, adding that after a year of studying the vaccines “the time of doubting is long past”.
The rules will be relaxed for teenagers who have only been able to get the jabs since mid-June – “Making summer hell is out of the question,” Attal said.
According to an Elabe opinion poll published on Tuesday, a large majority of French people approve of the new safety measures.
Approximately 35.5 million people – just over half of France’s population – have received at least one vaccine dose so far.
At the start of the pandemic, France had some of the highest levels of vaccine scepticism in the developed world.
In December 2020, a survey conducted by the Odoxa polling group and Le Figaro newspaper, showed that only 42 percent of the French population wanted to get vaccinated. By April of this year that had risen to 70 percent, while about 14 percent remain vehemently opposed to vaccines.