Almost a quarter of a million people took to the streets across France on Saturday for the biggest protests yet against the coronavirus health pass which will be needed from Monday by those who wish to enter a cafe or travel on an inter-city train.
French regulations which come into force on Monday will make it obligatory to have either a full course of vaccination against Covid-19, a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus in order to enjoy routine activities like indoor dining or long-distance travel.
President Emmanuel Macron has promoted the new rules, saying he hopes to encourage all French residents to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and thereby defeat the virus and its fast-spreading Delta variant.
Opponents of the regulations — who have now held four weekends of consecutive protests — argue the rules encroach on civil liberties.
An estimated 237,000 people turned out across France, including 17,000 in Paris, according to figures released by the interior ministry. Saturday’s protest thus mobilised more than the 204,000 recorded last weekend — unusual numbers for protests at the height of the summer break.
‘Health passes mean the death of freedom!’
In one of several protests in Paris, hundreds marched from the western suburbs to the centre of the capital, chanting “Freedom!” and “Macron, we don’t want your pass!”.
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.”
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 that seven members of the security forces had been slightly injured.
What the new regulations mean
From Monday, the health pass will be required by those who wish to eat in a restaurant or enjoy a drink at a cafe — both indoors and on a terrace. It will be obligatory on inter-city transport including high-speed trains, and on domestic flights, although the pass will not be needed on metro systems and suburban transport.
The pass has already been required since 21 July for those wishing to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Thursday.
In a slight easing of rules, Health Minister Oliver Véran said on Saturday that the time period over which a recent Covid test would be valid for the pass would be extended to three days instead of two.
It will also be “possible to perform self-tests supervised by a healthcare professional, in addition to antigen and PCR tests. These too will be valid for 72 hours”, the minister said.
The French government wants 50 million people to have received at least one jab by the end of August. Some 55 percent of the population of 66 million is now double jabbed.
Smaller protests held in Italy
Protests were also held in a number of Italian cities on Saturday against the introduction of new measures there requiring proof of coronavirus status to attend indoor events and for teachers.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome shouting “No Green Pass!” and “Freedom!”. Thousands more marched in Milan.
The Green Pass, an extension of the EU’s digital Covid certificate, became compulsory in Italy on Friday for those wishing to enter cinemas, museums and indoor sports venues or to eat indoors at restaurants.
School and university staff will need the pass, as will university students, while from 1 September it will be required on domestic flights and long-distance trains.