Massive protests took place in several French cities on Saturday for the second time in a week against the government's new health pass requirement and mandatory shots for healthcare workers.
An estimated 114,000 people took part in the protests, according to Interior Ministry estimates.
Thousands of protestors marched in Paris, Marseille, Avignon, and a half-dozen other cities chanting and carrying signboards saying “Freedom,” “Macron dictator,” “Macron resign,” “No to Shame Pass,” and “Boycott Health Pass.”
In Lyon the police arrested nine demonstrators, and in Dijon they fired tear gas on protestors for disrupting public order. Hundreds of demonstrators took over the expressway in southeastern Chambery and blocked both directions of traffic for several hours.
In Lans-en-Vercors, southeastern France, a vaccination center was found ransacked and vandalized on Saturday morning. Anti-vaccine graffiti was written on the wall, La Dauphine news reported. Authorities vowed those responsible would be prosecuted.
Elected representatives are also being threatened by anti-vaxxers, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin directed local police to strengthen measures to protect them, BFMTV reported.
The protesters’ ire was focused on President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement this week that health passes – giving details of negative PCR/antigen tests and vaccination for anyone 12 and older – will be mandatory for all events and public places of leisure and culture with occupancy of 50 or more people. By August, the rule will be extended to confined spaces such as restaurants, cafes, bars, and long-distance public transport.
The government has also made vaccines compulsory for healthcare workers and employees of institutions such as elder homes, with penalties including the loss of job and salary.
The new measures were introduced in light of rising cases of the Delta variant and the risk of a fourth wave in August. Authorities fear more cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the coming weeks if herd immunity is not achieved, and also plan to introduce mandatory vaccination for all by September if goals are not reached. So far, some 36.8 million people – over 50% of France’s population – has gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.
In the last 24 hours, France has recorded 10,949 new COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths – the second day in a row since the end of May when daily cases crossed the 10,000 mark.