PARIS (AFP) – Thousands demonstrated in cities across France on Saturday (Jan 15) against tighter restrictions on people not vaccinated against Covid-19, as parliamentary wrangling continued over the draft law.
In the capital Paris, the largest single gathering set off from near the Eiffel Tower, called by fringe anti-EU presidential candidate Florian Philippot.
Other demonstrations harked back to the 2018-19 “yellow jackets” protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s perceived favouring of the wealthy, while there were further gatherings in major cities like Bordeaux, Toulouse and Lille.
People in the crowd chanted “no to the vaccine” or “freedom for Djokovic”, seizing on the case of world tennis number one Novak Djokovic, who is fighting the Australian government to compete unvaccinated in next week’s Grand Slam Australian Open.
“Novak is kind of our standard-bearer at the moment,” demonstrator Pascal told AFP in Bordeaux. He was marching alongside parents with children at a tennis club in the western city, where he said the coach risks losing his job for refusing vaccination.
In Paris, demonstrators bore French and regional flags, with banners bearing messages like “it’s not the virus they want to control, it’s you”.
“It’s Nazism, it’s apartheid, I haven’t been jabbed and I’m against vaccines in general,” 60-something demonstrator Claire said. Two others, Laurence and Claire, told AFP they were vaccinated “but we’re against the pass for teenagers, we don’t see why they’re being vaccinated because they aren’t in danger”.
While officials had not published an estimate of nationwide turnout by late afternoon, police or local authorities counted around 1,000 each in Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseille.
Demonstrators were hoping to outstrip the 105,000 who hit the streets last weekend – some possibly mobilised by Macron’s declaration in a newspaper interview that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated with new restrictions until they accepted a coronavirus shot.
In the first step, a measure came into force Saturday that will deactivate the government-issued “health pass” for tens of thousands of people who have not received a booster vaccination within seven months of their first course of shots.
The pass – which grants access to public spaces like bars and restaurants – will be transformed into a “vaccine pass” under a law currently being debated in parliament, meaning proof of having the jab will be required.
So far people have been able to keep their pass valid with negative coronavirus tests. “It was urgent” to get jabbed, 32-year-old Juan Fernandez told AFP immediately after getting his shot on Saturday morning.
“When you go out, you need the health pass every time, that’s the main reason I did it.”