Protesters marched in cities across France for a fifth consecutive weekend in what could be the biggest demonstration yet against rules compelling them to show a COVID-19 health pass for daily activities.
They rallied through the streets of Paris, Marseille, Nice, Montpellier, and other towns waving placards reading “Pass=Apartheid” and chanting “Freedom, freedom”.
Since last Monday, citizens have been required to show the pass in public places, proving that they have been vaccinated or have recently been tested negative for the coronavirus.
After a week of leniency from the police, the government has vowed to get tougher on health pass checks. And testing, unless prescribed by a doctor, will no longer be free from October.
The number of protesters has more than doubled between the first and the fourth Saturday of protest, from 114,000 on July 17 to 237,000 on Aug 7.
Authorities estimate the 200+ rallies ongoing in the country will total around 250,000 demonstrators.
The protests have united a disparate group against President Emmanuel Macron’s legislation, which is meant to help contain the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections spreading across France and help safeguard the country’s economic recovery.
The number of people treated for COVID-19 in intensive care units has more than doubled in less than a month, standing at 1,831 as of Friday, a figure more than three times lower than the third lockdown peak of 6,001, but high enough to trigger new restrictive measures in certain areas.
Health Ministry data showed nine in every 10 COVID patients recently admitted to intensive care had not been vaccinated. A majority of French support the health pass, surveys show.
Among the protesters are remnants of the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement that shook Macron’s leadership during 2018-2019, and also other citizens who are anti-vaccine or consider the health pass to be discriminatory.
Vaccination rates jumped after Macron unveiled his health pass plans last month. Almost 70% of all French people have now received one dose and 57.5% are fully vaccinated.