French Protesters Reject Virus Passes, Vaccine Mandate

Paris -
Police forces walk on the Champs Elysees Avenue after clashes on the sidelines of a demonstration against France’s restrictions to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France, July 24, 2021. (REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)

Some 160,000 people, including far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement, protested Saturday across the country against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health-care workers.

Similar protests were held in neighboring Italy.

Police fired water cannons and tear gas on rowdy protesters in Paris, although most gatherings were orderly.

Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the virus bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it on Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising. The French government wants to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable people and hospitals, and avoid any new lockdown.

Most French adults are fully vaccinated and multiple polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.

While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles were also thrown. Later some protesters moved to the Arc de Triomphe and police used water cannons to disperse them.

Marchers included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron. They were upset over a French “health pass” that is now required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues.

To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.

French lawmakers are divided over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations but infections are rising quickly. More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France, and the country is now seeing about 20,000 new infections a day, up from just a few thousand a day in early July.