UPDATE: Protesters mass in France against Macron’s Covid health pass

UPDATE: Protesters mass in France against Macron's Covid health pass
Protestors hold the French flag and flags with the cross of Lorraine during a demonstration, part of a national day of protest against the mandatory Covid-19 health pass near Ecole Militaire in Paris on August 7th, 2021. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP
Almost a quarter of a million people took to the streets across France on Saturday for the biggest protests yet against a new health pass needed to enter a cafe or travel on an inter-city train, two days before the new rules come into force.

The new rules championed by President Emmanuel Macron make it obligatory to have either a full course of vaccination against Covid-19, be in possession of a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy usually routine activities.

Macron, who faces re-election next year, hopes the new rules will encourage all French to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and defeat the virus and its fast-spreading Delta variant.

A protester holds a banner depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a “puppet” during a demonstration against the mandatory Covid-19 health pass in Lille, northern France, on August 7th, 2021.  (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

But opponents, who have now held four weeks of consecutive protests, argue that the rules encroach on civil liberties in a country where individual freedom is prized.

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From Monday, the health pass will be needed to eat in a restaurant or enjoy a drink in a cafe, both indoors and on a terrace. It will be obligatory on inter-city transport including high-speed trains and domestic flights although will not be needed on metro systems and suburban transport.

The pass has already been required since July 21st to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Thursday.

A protestor holds a sign with a QR code mocking the health pass during a demonstration against the mandatory Covid-19 health pass in Brest, western France on August 7th, 2021. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

About 237,000 people turned out across France, including 17,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said, exceeding the 204,000 recorded last weekend with the numbers extremely unusual for protests at the height of the summer holiday period.

In one of several protests in Paris, hundreds marched from the western suburbs to the centre, chanting “freedom!” and “Macron, we don’t want your pass”.

READ ALSO: What to expect in France this weekend as more anti-health pass protests planned

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Wearing a mask, Alexandre Fourez, 34, said he was protesting for the first time and that he had himself recovered from Covid.

Yellow vest demonstrators face French gendarmes, during a national day of protest against the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for certain workers and the mandatory use of the health pass called for by the French government in Paris on August 7th, 2021.  (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

“The problem with the health pass is that our hand is being forced,” said the marketing employee, adding he “really has difficulty believing its use will be temporary”.

At least 37,000 people protested in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region on the Mediterranean coast in cities including Toulon, Nice and Marseille, officials said. Slogans included “the health pass means the death of freedoms”.

‘Get vaccinated’ 
Although many of the protesters are among those refusing to be vaccinated, some have taken the jabs but object to the principle of the health pass.

French nationalist party “Les Patriotes” party leader Florian Philippot (C) and head of far-right party “Debout France” Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (C,R) march during a demonstration against the mandatory Covid-19 health pass in Paris on August 7th, 2021. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

Most of the protests were peaceful but there were seven arrests in the southeastern city of Lyon for throwing projectiles while in Dijon a tram line was blocked.

There were 35 arrests nationwide, the interior ministry said, adding seven members of the security forces were lightly wounded.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that the pass, which under current rules will be required until November 15th, was needed to avoid further restrictions as the country fights the fourth wave of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Demonstrators hold up banners and placards, one of which reads as “Abduction alert : French Democracy” at a protest in Nantes, western France on August 7th, 2021. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

“It is an additional constraint but a constraint that will allow places to stay open,” he said, while emphasising that there would be a one week “grace period” for consumers and businesses to get used to the new rules.

Macron, who is still at his holiday residence in the south of France, has in recent days repeatedly taken to the social media platform Tik Tok, popular among young people, to get his message across.

Demonstrators shout out slogans at the health pass protest in Nantes (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

“Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated,” Macron said in the latest video on Friday. “It’s a question of being a good citizen… our freedom is worth nothing if we infect our friends, neighbours or grandparents. To be free is to be responsible.”

The Le Monde daily said Macron’s decision to show no patience with the protesters had its risks, even for a leader who appears to thrive on confrontation with the street as during the 2018-2019 “yellow vest” protests.

Demonstrators hold up banners and placards, one of which reads as “Let’s save freedom, freedom save the rest” at a demonstration in Nantes against the mandatory health pass. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

“It is a perilous strategy. Playing with the street is to play with fire,” it said.

The vaccine rollout has gathered steam in France since the health pass plan was announced and the government wants 50 million people to have received at least one jab by the end of August. Almost 55 percent of the population is now double jabbed.

With around 25,000 new infections recorded on Friday, cases remain high but stable. Concern remains over overseas territories such as Guadeloupe and Martinique and the Mediterranean coast including Corsica, hit by an influx of holidaymakers.


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