Protesters opposing a health pass championed by President Emmanuel Macron to defeat Covid-19 massed in streets across France for the fifth successive weekend Saturday, refusing to give in after the measure was fully implemented.
Macron sees the health pass – which essentially makes vaccination essential to carry on with routine activities like sipping a coffee in a cafe or travelling on a train – as the key to emerging from the pandemic and avoiding further lockdowns.
But protesters – an eclectic mix of far-right, yellow vest anti-inequality activists, anti-vaxxers and civil liberties campaigners – say that the policy encroaches on the basic freedoms so prized by the French.
Two separate protests were taking place in Paris – in a sign of the inability of the protesters to fully unite – with slogans like “free France!”, “stop the corona-madness” or “yes to the freedom to choose” being chanted and brandished.
“I detest the idea that the authorities can go as far as they like,” said Marie Huguet, a pensioner, taking part in Paris in a protest organised by the yellow vests who shook Macron with mass protests from 2018-2019.
Yann Fontaine, 30, who works in a notary office, said he believed the health pass is a measure that “kills freedom and is segregationist”.
Unlike in the yellow vests demonstrations from 2018 there have been no reports of major incidents in these protests. But they have only been increasing in numbers and show no sign of diminishing.
About 237,000 people turned out last Saturday across France, including 17,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said, exceeding the 204,000 recorded the weekend before and numbers extremely unusual for protests at the height of the summer break.
Protesters accuse the government of downplaying the numbers taking to the streets. A collective called Le Nombre Jaune published a detailed breakdown city by city on Facebook in a bid to show the actual numbers last week were 415,000.
Other protests were taking place in cities, especially in the south, including Toulon, Montpellier, Nice, Marseille and Perpignan, where numbers have sometimes exceeded those in Paris.
Macron, who faces re-election next year, has shown little patience with the demands of the protesters while his Health Minister Olivier Veran last week lashed out at a movement “about which we are talking far too much”.
Analysts have said Macron thrives on taking on a protest movement – as was the case with the yellow vests – as it plays well with his core centrist supporters but the government needs to be attentive to the fact the protests are continuing.
The government has also expressed alarm over anti-Semitic elements at some rallies and a teacher in the eastern city of Metz will go on trial next month accused of seeking to incite racial hatred after brandishing a sign at a protest last week that police said was clearly anti-Semitic.
Implemented on Monday, the regulations make it obligatory to have either a full course of vaccination against Covid-19, a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy routine activities like eating at a restaurant or a cafe or travelling by inter-city train.
The pass has already been required since July 21 to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council earlier this month.
The vaccine rollout has gathered steam in France since the health pass plan was announced and the government wants 50 million people to have received at least one jab by the end of August.