By Richard Lough
PARIS -Protesters marched in cities across France on Saturday in a fourth consecutive weekend of demonstrations, denouncing what they see as oppressive rules compelling health workers to get COVID-19 shots and citizens to have a health pass for many daily activities.
In Lyon, police fired teargas to disperse protesters hurling projectiles at their lines, TV images showed.
Protesters also rallied through the streets of Paris, Nice, Montpellier and other towns waving placards reading “No to dictatorship” and chanting “Macron, we don’t want your health pass”.
Over 230,000 took part in protests across France, the highest number over the past month, the interior ministry said.
The protests have united a disparate group against President Emmanuel Macron’s legislation, which is meant to help contain a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections spreading across France and help safeguard the country’s economic recovery.
Among the protesters are hard-left anarchists and far-right militants, 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. Two thirds of all French people have now received one dose and 55% are fully vaccinated.
From Monday, people will have to show a health pass to eat in a restaurant, access non-emergency treatment in a hospital or travel on an intercity train. They are already needed to access swimming pools, museums and nightclubs.
Health employees have until Sept. 15 to get their vaccinations or face suspension.
“I’d rather not be paid than be forced to have the vaccine,” hospital psychiatrist Diane Hekking told Reuters as she protested in Paris.
Similar health passes – which show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test – have been introduced in other European countries but France’s pass and its mandatory vaccine order for health workers are perhaps the most far-reaching.
The protesters in France accuse Macron of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally. The president says freedoms carry responsibilities that include protecting the health of others.
Health Ministry data showed nine in every 10 COVID patients admitted to intensive care in late July had not been vaccinated. A majority of French support the health pass, surveys show.
France’s highest constitutional authority ruled on Thursday that the legislation complied with the republic’s founding charter..
In the northern town of Cambrai, nearly every restaurant and cafe closed their doors to protest against the health pass requirements.
“We’re not against the vaccine. We’re against having to run checks on our patrons,” said bar manager Laurent Zannier.
In Poland, thousands marched to protest against COVID-19 restrictions in the southern city of Katowice as the country’s government debated whether to place restrictions on unvaccinated people.
Some carried placards that said “Enough of coronapsychosis”, but no major incidents were recorded.
Poles are split on the issue with several surveys showing support for restrictions on unvaccinated people at between 43-54%, depending on the severity of the restrictions.