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Explained: Why protests have erupted in France against govt’s Covid-19 measures

France protests: Protesters clashed with police, with vandals attacking a vaccination centre in southeastern France on Friday night. Several elected officials also received threats.

Anti-vaccine protesters march during a rally in Paris, Saturday, July 17, 2021. The Louvre museum in the background | AP

French President Emmanuel Macron’s latest measures to push people to get vaccinated and to curb new Covid infections, announced recently, have generated an angry response from both the far-left and far-right groups in the EU country, with more than 1 lakh protesting nationwide on Saturday.

Protest marches were carried out across the capital Paris, the eastern city of Strasbourg, Lille in the north, and Montpellier in the south, among other places, as per an Associated Press report.

Protesters clashed with police, with vandals attacking a vaccination centre in southeastern France on Friday night. Several elected officials also received threats, following which Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin asked police to reinforce security.

What are the anti-Covid measures France has announced?

On Monday, the French government decided to make vaccination compulsory for health workers and announced that people who are fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative or have recovered from Covid will be required to display a ‘health pass’ to access restaurants and other public amenities.

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The Macron government is bringing a draft law before the French parliament on Monday to get the measures legislative approval. The bill also includes a mandatory 10-day quarantine for anyone who tests positive, as well as random police checks, Reuters reported. Business owners and customers who flout the rules would attract hefty fines or even jail.

Starting Wednesday, Covid passes will be introduced in stages for entering all restaurants, bars, hospitals, shopping malls, trains, planes and other venues. Health workers need to get vaccinated by September 15. Although exact rules for tourists remain in flux, the French government has said it will allow entry to fully vaccinated visitors from any part of the world. The list of accepted vaccine brands includes India’s Covishield.

The move came after a surge in infections linked to the Delta variant, leading to warnings from doctors that a slowdown in vaccinations could imperil the country, which has lost over 1.1 lakh people to the pandemic, besides damage to the economy during the past 18 months.

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At the protests on Saturday, groups from across the ideological spectrum, including fringe elements, were present, such as royalists (conservatives who want France to become a monarchy again), yellow vests activists (populists who are against austerity measures), Covid vaccine-skeptics and medical staff. At the protest in Montpellier, demonstrators rallied behind slogans such as “Liberty” and “Our kids aren’t Guinea pigs.”

Marine Le Pen, Macron’s main challenger in next year’s presidential elections, has called compulsory vaccination for health workers an “indecent brutality.” Far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon has also described the measures as “presidential monarchy.”

So, what explains the antipathy to taking the vaccine?

Opponents of the health pass accuse Macron of trampling on their freedom and forcing them to take the Covid vaccine. They also accuse the president of enforcing a near-mandate, despite a promise only six months ago that taking the shot would not be compulsory.

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France, which in the past had high rates of vaccine-approval, witnessed a sharp reversal in confidence on jabs in general because of scams related to the pharmaceutical industry and a controversial influenza vaccine campaign in 2009. Experts also criticised the government’s Covid vaccine rollout strategy for sending mixed messages.

The government, however, insists that vaccines are the only way to bring the nation back to normalcy, and believes that the measures will accelerate its vaccination drive, which has currently stalled at around 53%, as per The Washington Post.

Indeed, in the hours since the rules were announced, vaccination centres saw a huge increase in appointment requests, and a record number of jabs were administered. Surveys, too, suggest that despite a high rate of vaccine hesitancy in recent years, a majority of French approve last week’s measures.Explained: Why protests have erupted in France against govt’s Covid measures

First published on: 18-07-2021 at 07:38:40 pm
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