IN PICTURES: France sees fifth weekend of protests against Macron Covid pass

IN PICTURES: France sees fifth weekend of protests against Macron Covid pass
People take part in a demonstration 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 to access most public spaces, in Nantes, Western France, on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)
More than 200,000 protesters marched across France on Saturday against a health pass championed by President Emmanuel Macron to defeat Covid-19, even though the measure has already been applied.

The interior ministry said a total of 214,845 people, including nearly 14,000 in Paris, took part in the nationwide protests, down by about 22,000 from last weekend, but still strong for the fifth straight weekend.

French nationalist party “Les Patriotes” (The Patriots) party leader Florian Philippot (C) and lawyer for public health Fabrice di Vizio (R) stand on stage during a national day of protest against the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for certain workers, and the mandatory use of the health pass in Paris on August 14th, 2021. The placard (L) reads “no to the health pass”. Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

Macron sees the health pass — which makes vaccination essential to carry on with routine activities like sipping a coffee in a cafe or travelling on a train — as the key to emerging from the pandemic and avoiding further lockdowns.

But protesters — an eclectic mix of far-right, yellow vest anti-inequality activists, anti-vaxxers and civil liberties campaigners — say the policy encroaches on the basic freedoms so prized by the French.

A mask bearing French President Emmanuel Macron with a QR code is displayed during a march organised by the French nationalist party “Les Patriotes” (The Patriots) in Paris on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

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A pro-vaccine man, holding a placard reading “Save lives, get vaccinated” is attacked by protesters in Nantes, Western France, on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

Two separate protests took place in Paris — in a sign of the inability of the protesters to fully unite — with slogans like “free France!”, “stop the corona-madness” or “yes to the freedom to choose” being chanted and brandished.

Yann Fontaine, 30, who works in a notary office, said he believed the health pass was a measure that “kills freedom and is segregationist”.

Unlike in the yellow vests demonstrations from 2018 there have been no reports of major incidents in these protests. But the numbers of protesters remain strong and show no sign of diminishing.

A protester holds a placard depicting French cartoon character Obelix that reads ‘please show me your sanitary pass’ as he takes part in a national day of protest in Metz on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

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

Government defiant
Protesters have accused the government of downplaying the numbers taking to the streets. A collective called Le Nombre Jaune published a detailed breakdown city by city on Facebook in a bid to show the actual numbers last week were 415,000.

A protester holds a placard reading “To keep silent is to accept. To control is to collaborate” in Nantes, Western France, on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

Other protests took place in other cities, especially in the south, including Toulon, Montpellier, Nice, Marseille and Perpignan, where numbers have sometimes exceeded those in Paris.

A protester holds a sign reading ‘neither guinea pig nor outcast’ in front of the A.R.S (regional health agency) in Marseille, southern France, on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP)

Macron, who faces re-election next year, has shown little patience with the demands of the protesters while his Health Minister Olivier Veran last week lashed out at a movement “about which we are talking far too much”.

A demonstrator wears a health worker blouse reading ‘applauded one day, fired the next’ in Marseille, southern France, on August 14th, 2021, protesting the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for health care workers, and the mandatory use of the health pass in most public spaces. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP)

Analysts have said Macron thrives on taking on a protest movement — as was the case with the yellow vests — as it plays well with his core centrist supporters but the government needs to be attentive to the fact the protests are continuing.

The government has also expressed alarm over anti-Semitic elements at some rallies — a teacher in the eastern city of Metz will go on trial next month accused of seeking to incite racial hatred after brandishing a sign at a protest last week that police said was clearly anti-Semitic.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement tweeted that he alerted the legal system as required about “anti-semitic signs brandished” again on Saturday during a protest in Paris.

Demonstrators holds up placards that read, ‘#I am Cassandre’, refering to Cassandre Fristot who was arrested for her antisemitic sign during the demonstration on August 7th, 2021. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

Implemented on Monday, the regulations make it obligatory to have either a full course of vaccination against Covid-19, a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy routine activities like eating at a restaurant or a cafe or travelling by inter-city train.

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 earlier this month.

A demonstrator holds up a sign which reads “We are the new wave”, in Marseille on August 14th, 2021. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP)

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.

This came as the country experienced a fourth virus wave.

In the last week, the health authorities said, 5,298 more people have been hospitalised with Covid-19, up from 4,574 the previous week.

As of August 14th, over 42m people have received a first vaccine dose, while more than 39m are fully vaccinated, as this tweet from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health showed.


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