Police in Paris clashed with protesters outraged by President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to require a Covid-19 vaccine certificate or negative PCR test result to gain entry to bars, restaurants and cinemas from next month.
Macron this week announced sweeping measures to fight a recent surge in new coronavirus infections, including the mandatory vaccination of health workers and new health pass rules for the wider public.
In doing so, he went further than most other European nations have done.
Other governments are watching to see how the French public responds to the innovation as the highly contagious Delta variant rampages through the country.
Protests began in the French capital on Wednesday morning as the annual military parade for Bastille Day was taking place along the famous Champs-Élysées watched by Macron.
Every year, July 14 celebrations mark the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the fortress in Paris which marked the turning point in the French Revolution.
This year, many protesters wore badges saying, “No to the health pass”.
The police fired tear gas as protesters overturned garbage cans and street furniture, and torched several vehicles.
Some critics of Macron’s plan – which will require shopping malls, cafes, bars and restaurants to check the health passes of all patrons from August – accuse the president of trampling on freedoms and discriminating against those who do not want a Covid jab.
“It’s totally arbitrary and wholly undemocratic,” said one protester who identified himself only as Jean-Louis.
Among other proposals in the government’s draft bill is the mandatory isolation for 10 days of anyone who tests positive, with police making random checks, French media reported.
Macron says the vaccine is the best way to put France back on the path to normalcy and that he is encouraging as many people as possible to get inoculated.
There were protests in many other cities across the country Reuters reports, with marchers chanting, “Down with dictatorship! Down with the health pass!”
Since the announcement a record number of French people have booked appointments for Covid-19 jabs.
One of the protesters, Yann Fontaine, a 29-year-old from central France, told The Guardian he had come to demonstrate in Paris because the imposition of a health pass is tantamount to segregation.
“Macron plays on fears, it’s revolting. I know people who will now get vaccinated just so they can take their children to the movies, not to protect others from serious forms of Covid,” he said.
According to an Elabe opinion poll published on Tuesday, the new safety measures have a large majority of approval among the French people.
Around 35.5 million people – almost half of France’s population – have received at least one vaccine dose so far.
At the start of the pandemic, France had some of the highest levels of vaccine scepticism in the developed world.