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Friday, July 03, 2020

Explained: Why there are protests in different countries despite the Covid-19 lockdowns

The lockdown hasn’t prevented civilians from protesting against government policies on a wide range of issues, ranging from inequality to hunger and unemployment, all of which have intensified following the global outbreak of the coronavirus infection.

Written by Neha Banka | Updated: May 2, 2020 10:19:14 am
coronavirus lockdown, lockdown protests, protests across world protests during lockdown, united states, lebanon, columbid, france, indian express Demonstrators, wearing masks as preventive measures against the spread of coronavirus disease, gesture and carry Lebanese flags during a protest against the growing economic hardship and to mark Labour Day in Beirut, Lebanon. (Reuters)

The coronavirus pandemic has forced governments around the world to institute lockdowns in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, that hasn’t prevented civilians from protesting against government policies on a wide range of issues, ranging from inequality to hunger and unemployment, all of which have intensified following the global outbreak of the coronavirus infection.

Following the detection of COVID-19 in their territories, several nations around the world have placed curbs on large gatherings of people. Protest movements in India against the implementation of the CAA and NRC appear to have been temporarily halted, as have the Hong Kong protests that first began in the spring of 2019. While some activists and participants of protest movements claim the bans of public gatherings is a violation of their rights, government officials say the steps are necessary to ensure public safety and health due to the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 has brought.

indianexpress.com tracks protests presently ongoing world-over:

LEBANON

Lebanon has been hit by civil protests since October 2019 that show no signs of stopping more than six months later. What started as hundreds of people taking to the streets of Lebanon to protest plans for new taxes during the 2020 budget season on everything from tobacco to social media platforms like WhatsApp, escalated and expanded to wide-scale protests against an unstable economy, sectarian rule, unemployment and corruption. They also compelled a shake-up of the country’s leadership. The mass protests that went on for weeks and petered down closer to Christmas and New Year, only to restart by the middle of January. On February 21, Lebanon recorded its first case of coronavirus prompting the country to close down public spaces including schools and colleges.

By March 15, Lebanon’s government put the country in a state of emergency to combat the spread of coronavirus, closing land and sea ports. Many citizens expressed concerns that these moves would cause further setback to an already beleaguered country. Lebanon’s financial crisis resulted in a sovereign debt default and also affected its currency’s value. Protest camps were ordered to be removed by the country’s security forces and curfews were imposed on public gatherings. The government’s decision to remove these camps were interpreted by many, including sections of the country’s press, as a move to suppress protests. As coronavirus cases rose in the country, airports were also closed down.

Lebanon’s government is contemplating extending the lockdown at least until May 10 with proposals to potentially restore certain parts of the economy. Since April 21, protests across the country, including in places like Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Nabatieh, Akkar, Bekaa Valley have become more volatile, resulting in deaths and injuries of civilians as well as soldiers. As the instability continues in the country, with coronavirus adding to its troubles, analysts say the deteriorating situation and inequality may worsen, causing hunger to be an additional crisis faced by the country’s ordinary citizens.

People stand during a protest against the anti-coronavirus measures taken by the Austrian government, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Vienna, Austria, May 1, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

FRANCE

The yellow-vest movement that started in France in October 2018, followed by mass demonstrations a month later, have shown no signs of stopping. This movement also started as a protest against high taxes that would further burden the middle class and the poor and against income inequality. As in the case of Lebanon, the coronavirus outbreak has further exacerbated the issues that had first triggered the protests in 2018. France has been under lockdown since March 17 to curb the spread of Covid-19 and amid the global health crisis, the news of riots in a Paris suburb that occurred on March 18 may have slipped under the radar.

The riots in the Paris suburb of Villeneuve-la-Garenne began after a man riding a motorcycle crashed into the open door of an unmarked police vehicle and reportedly severely fractured his leg. Some locals accused the police of deliberately opening the vehicle door to injure the rider.

While the incident was not connected with the yellow-vest movement, observers believe the riots were a result of long-simmering tensions in the mostly working-class neighbourhood with many immigrant families, within the larger context of inequality in the country and growing food costs and food-shortages following the lockdown. This past week, video footage from Villeneuve-la-Garenne emerged to show protests throwing fireworks at police forces following the start of the riots. The police, in turn, responded with teargas.

COLOMBIA

Protests have been ongoing in Colombia since November 2019 against a range of proposed economic and political reforms. While they stopped in January 2020, following the outbreak of coronavirus, they appear to have started once again. Since March 24, Colombia has been under lockdown, first starting at city levels and expanding across the country. Following the announcement of the lockdown, many daily-wage workers gathered at the Plaza Bolivar, the main square in the capital of Bogotá and protested the sudden imposition of these government orders fearing that they may not be able to pay rent or purchase food due to the loss of wages. A week later, Colombia health workers gathered on the streets of Bogotá to protest delayed salaries. Already facing strains due to the outbreak of coronavirus, health workers demanded payment saying it was becoming difficult for them to work without getting paid. Although the Colombian government had announced $1.47 billion as funds to fight coronavirus, Reuters reported the nurses saying the money had not reached healthcare workers.

UNITED STATES

With the US recording the highest rates of coronavirus infections around the world, and witnessing those numbers rising each day, it now has an additional challenge with which it needs to contend. While most of the country has still been ordered to stay at home, some states have been easing restrictions by allowing the opening of parks, beaches and some businesses. However, in several states around the country, protestors have taken to the streets and have engaged in blocking streets using cars and car horns in their protest.

The protestors say these restrictions are preventing them from leading their daily lives and are impacting businesses. Some have even come carrying firearms, claiming infringement of rights and civil liberties. Reports suggest unemployment has also spiked across the country. According to news reports, organisers of these protests claim their political affiliations are conservertative and the protestors are mostly pro-Trump and pro-gun rights supporters. Far right groups and militias have also made their presence felt at these gatherings. Some other protestors have said they are desperate to start earning a regular salary. In April, Trump appeared to endorse these protests on Twitter by posting messages with calls to “liberate” different states like Minnesota, Virginia, Michigan etc. that had placed curbs to control coronavirus.

Across political lines, the response towards these protests has also been divided. Some public health experts and state governors and other political leaders have stated that social distancing is necessary for the US given the high infection rates. Two weeks ago, Facebook announced that it would remove events listings for such protest gatherings if they violate state laws that have instituted bans against them.

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