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France sees largest protests yet against COVID pass

August 7, 2021

France saw its largest protests yet against the country's health pass. In Italy, some anti-vax demonstrators wore the widely condemned gold stars, echoing the badges Nazi Germany forced Jewish people to wear.

 Anti-vax protesters against the vaccine and vaccine passports, during a demonstration in Paris, France
Nearly a quarter of a million people protested in France against coronavirus rules on SaturdayImage: Adrienne Surprenant/AP/picture alliance

Protesters took to the streets in France and Italy on Saturday in opposition to COVID rules that they say infringe on their civil liberties but which officials argue are needed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests come as European countries double down on efforts to get wide portions of their populations vaccinated in the face of the spreading delta variant — and in a bid to avoid further lockdowns.

What happened in France?

Demonstrations against France's health pass and mandatory vaccines for health care workers entered their fourth weekend, with Saturday seeing the largest rally yet.

An estimated 237,000 people turned out nationwide, according to the Interior Ministry. The figure exceeds the attendance a week ago, which saw 204,000 protesters.

While 17,000 people turned out in Paris, much of the focus was in southern France — where between 10,000 and 20,000 people marched in Nice alone.

In contrast to prior weekends, the demonstrations were largely peaceful. The more major scuffles broke out between protesters and police in Lyon, France's third-largest city.

 People hold signs reading "liberty" and "no to the sanitary pass" during a protest in Bayonne, southwestern France
The city of Bayonne and other areas of southern France saw larger numbers of protesters, despite a surge in cases in the region Image: Bob Edme/AP/picture alliance

The protests come on the heels of a Constructional Council ruling on Thursday. The court approved the government's plan for the health pass and vaccine requirements for workers in hospitals in nursing homes.

France is currently in the grips of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. The county has seen a boost in vaccinations since French President Emmanuel Macron announced the health pass in July.

Some two-thirds of the French population eligible for the jab have received one dose, while 55% are fully vaccinated.

What happened in Italy?

Italy also saw thousands turn out against the implementation of the country's Green Pass, which is now required for teachers and for people to attend indoor events.

News agency ANSA reported that "thousands" marched in the city of Milan at an unauthorized protest.

Some within the anti-vaccine movement wore widely condemned yellow star badges reading "not vaccinated," resembling those that Jewish people were forced to wear by the Nazis.

Demonstrators during a protest against the "Green Pass" vaccine passport in the center of Rome, Italy
Some 1,500 people gathered in central Rome to demonstrate against new requirements for the country's Green PassImage: Angelo Carconi/ANSA/picture alliance

Another 1,500 people gathered in Rome, posters reading: "No Green Pass!" while in Naples, around 100 anti-vax protesters demonstrated against vaccinations for children.

Italy has overseen a successful vaccination campaign, with over 63% of the population older than 12 are fully vaccinated.

What is the health pass?

The health pass in France and the Green Pass in Italy are both digital certificates that provide proof of a person's coronavirus status.

They contain data on whether the person is vaccinated against COVID-19, has recently tested negative, or has recovered from the virus.

The pass is already required in France for those who want to go to the movie theater or attend other major events. Starting on Monday, it will also be required for those who want to visit bars and restaurants, or for those traveling on long-distance trains or on airplanes.

In Italy, the Green Pass is required to enter museums, sports venues, cinemas and for indoor dining. School teachers, university staff and university students are also required to show the pass.

rs/sms (AFP, dpa)