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PROTESTS

Paris police hold 81 over banned anti-vaccine convoy

Paris police said they arrested 97 people who defied a ban on a Canada-style protest convoy over coronavirus regulations to try block traffic in the capital, with 81 still in custody Sunday.

protest convoy
French anti-riot policemen detain a woman on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Thousands of demonstrators from across France attempted to block traffic in the capital Saturday in a self-proclaimed “freedom convoy” of cars, trucks and campervans. Hundreds of them continued on to Brussels on Sunday.

In Paris, more than 100 vehicles managed to converge on the Champs-Elysees avenue, where police used teargas to disperse protesters in scenes reminiscent of the “yellow vest” riots of 2018-2019.

Dozens of people remained on the famous avenue and in the nearby Bois de Boulogne forest park until early Sunday.

Prosecutors said one of those being held was Jerome Rodrigues, a leader of the “yellow vest” protest movement, which engaged in running battles with the police every weekend for several months in late 2018 and early 2019.

The Paris police department also said an internal inquiry has been opened after a video emerged on social media showing an officer striking a demonstrator on the head on the Champs-Elysees.

The protest is one of several worldwide inspired by the truckers’ standoff with authorities in Canada.

In France, the demonstrators took aim at the “vaccine pass” required to enter restaurants, cafes and many other public venues implemented as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s inoculation drive.

“This Covid pass is just the latest in a series of anti-freedom measures in our country – we have freedom of movement in Europe, yet we’re being stopped by the police, we don’t have the right to be here and carry a flag,” Daniel Bravo, 61, told AFP.

Over 400 vehicles camped out at several sites around Paris overnight, and organisers have called for people to head for Brussels for a major demonstration on Monday, a police source said.

However not all are expected to make the trip, the source said.

Belgium has banned the protest, and its Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has urged would-be attendees to “go and protest in your own country”.

‘Fatigue’ and anger

The demonstrations, with convoys setting out from cities across France, come two months before presidential elections in which Macron is expected to seek re-election.

On Friday, Macron said he understood the “fatigue” after two years of the pandemic.

“This fatigue also leads to anger. I understand it… But I call for the utmost calm,” he told the Ouest-France newspaper.

The government has said it plans to relax face mask mandates by February 28th, and is hoping to end the vaccine pass requirement by late March or early April.

Some 24,000 more people demonstrated in other parts of the country Saturday, the authorities said, including in the southern city of Montpellier, where radical fringe activists broke the glass facades of two banks.

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COVID-19 ALERT

France to scrap vaccine pass and mask rule

The French Prime Minister has confirmed that the rules on masks and vaccine passes will be scrapped in almost all venues from March 14th.

France to scrap vaccine pass and mask rule

The government had previously said that mid March was a likely date for relaxation of the rules, with the health minister adding targets around the number of cases and patients in hospital.

But Prime Minister Jean Castex, speaking on the TF1 TV channel’s lunchtime show, confirmed that the rules would be scrapped from Monday, March 14th.

Castex said: “After a fifth wave of Covid on an unprecedented scale, the health situation has been improving significantly for several weeks. In particular, the pressure on hospitals due to the epidemic has decreased significantly, allowing the lifting of emergency protocols and a gradual resumption of scheduled appointments and surgeries.

“Under these conditions, and while scientific models do not foresee any change in this favourable trajectory in the coming weeks, we can today announce new measures.”

From Monday, March 14th, masks will no longer be compulsory in any indoor spaces – with the exception of public transport, medical establishments and care homes. Private businesses will still be able to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Castex did not mention schools, but his office later clarified that masks will no longer be required in the classroom.

The government still recommends masks for at-risk positive and contact cases, symptomatic individuals and health care professionals.

The vaccine pass – currently required to access a wide range of venues including bars, restaurants, tourist sites and ski lifts – will also be suspended from March 14th.

A health pass – requiring proof of either vaccination or a recent negative Covid test – will still be needed to access venues with extremely vulnerable residents such as hospitals and care homes.

 

Covid case numbers have fallen tenfold since January, when daily cases peaked at over 100,000 a day. Although patient numbers in hospitals are also falling there were still 2,329 Covid patients in intensive care on March 2nd.

The targets previously set by health minister Olivier Véran were to have an R rate below 1, an incidence rate (cases per 100,000 people) below 500 and to have fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in intensive care.

On March 2nd the R rate was 0.63 and the incidence rate was 584.

There appears to be more doubt about whether the hospital target will be met – on March 2nd there were 2,329 patients in ICU, this has been falling steadily since the beginning of February and the current number is 24 percent lower than the previous week. However experts estimate the the occupancy is still likely to be at around 1,700 – above the target – by March 14th. 

France first introduced the health pass in summer 2021 before converting it into a vaccine pass – where a negative Covid test was no longer accepted – in January 2022.

In January it also added the obligation to have a booster shot in order to keep a working health pass and stipulated that this must be given within four months of the second dose – something that has proved a particular headache for tourists coming from countries which do not offer a booster after four months.

The requirement for all children aged 12 and over to have either a health or vaccine pass has also proved problematic for visitors from countries that do not have widespread vaccination programmes for children.

In France the vaccine pass has been credited with driving the high vaccination rate – over 90 percent of adults are vaccinated in France and 79.3 percent of the entire population have had at least one vaccine dose. Vaccination is open to everyone aged five and older. 

 
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