Tens of thousands of people again demonstrated on the streets of France on Saturday against the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, amid concerns from rights groups over anti-Semitic sentiment in the protest movement.
Saturday’s marches were called for the sixth weekend in a row to denounce a “health pass” system announced by President Emmanuel Macron that they believe is unfairly restricting the rights of unvaccinated.
Under the system, which has been phased in since mid-July, anyone wishing to enter a restaurant, theatre, cinema, long-distance train or large shopping center must present a vaccination certificate or a negative test.
About 200 different demonstrations were held across the country, with about 9,500 people in the south of Montpellier, 4,000 in the east of Strasbourg and 3,400 in Bordeaux, according to local authorities.
At the head of the Paris march, people held up flags and banners with the word “Liberty” on them as they shouted, “Macron! We don’t want your pass!”
The protest movement has brought together conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, former members of the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement, as well as those concerned that the system is unfairly creating a two-tier society.
According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, about 200,000 people marched in recent weekends, and the final figures for Saturday’s demonstrations will be released in the evening.
Organizers claim the actual number last weekends was double the figures estimated by police.
The government insists the pass is needed to encourage vaccination coverage and avoid a fourth national lockdown, with eight or nine in 10 COVID-19 patients being hospitalized, eight or nine out of 10 COVID-19 patients being hospitalized. make up 19 patients.
A majority of French people support the health pass system and only about a third agree with the protesters, according to a survey by the Ifop polling group for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper last weekend.
The protest movement has been marked from the start by slogans and symbols denounced by Jewish groups and anti-racism activists.
Some protesters have worn yellow stars similar to the ones the Nazi regime forced Jews to display during World War II, leading to condemnation of Holocaust survivors for the offensive comparison.
Others have been photographed holding up signs with the word “Qui?” (meaning “Who?”), a coded reference to Jews accused of spreading Covid propaganda through the media and profiting from the vaccine industry.
“What I find striking is how it (anti-Semitism) is recurring and openly displayed,” the head of SOS Racism, Dominique Sopo, told AFP. “During the yellow vest movement, it was something that was expressed in the margins… now the people wearing these signs are not hiding and other protesters are not responding.”
left-wing newspaper Le Monde condemned the rise in anti-Semitic behavior in an editorial this week, calling it a “poison to society, a danger to all of us.”
“While far-right anti-Semitism is old, it appears at present to be encouraged by the rise of conspiracy theorist,” it added.
Tristan Mendes-France, a specialist on the conspiracy movement, called COVID-19 “an accelerator of anti-Semitism because we see tragedy happening all the time.
“People who have landed in the conspiracy theory online are reminded daily of their anger and frustration because we’re always talking about the epidemic. It’s like putting salt in an open wound.”
Though controversial, the health pass system has been effective in encouraging people to sign up for vaccinations, with millions of people booking appointments in the days after it was announced on July 12.
About 47 million people have received at least one dose, about 70 percent of the population, which is a higher percentage than in Germany and Italy and only slightly behind Britain.
The most severe COVID-19 hotpots are currently found in France’s overseas territories, such as the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as the Pacific islands of French Polynesia.
Polynesian authorities announced a tightening of restrictions on Saturday, with schools, restaurants and bars closing for two weeks, while a curfew is brought forward by one hour to 8pm.
Tourists have been told to stay in their hotels in the islands where the number of infections has increased by a multiple of 14 in two weeks, said the islands’ head Edouard Fritch.
France as a whole reported about 22,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, according to figures from the health ministry.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)