Another weekend of protests against France’s ‘health pass’ restrictions

Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of France again on Saturday against the government’s Covid-19 vaccination policies amid concern from human rights groups over anti-Semitic sentiment in the protest movement.

Saturday’s protests were called for the sixth consecutive weekend to denounce a new “health pass” system announced by President Emmanuel Macron that they believe unfairly restricts the rights of the unvaccinated.

Under the system, introduced progressively since mid-July, anyone wishing to enter a restaurant, theater, movie theater, long-distance train, or large shopping center must present proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Around 200,000 people have marched in the previous weekends, according to figures from the Interior Ministry, while organizers say the real number is almost double.

At the head of the Paris march in the early afternoon, a few hundred people raised flags and banners with the word “Freedom” while shouting “Macron! We don’t want your pass!”

The protest movement has brought together conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccines, former members of the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement, as well as people concerned that the system unfairly creates a two-tier society.

Far-right leader Florian Philippot, who accused Macron of turning France into a dictatorship and compared the health pass to apartheid, was at the Paris rally on Saturday.

The government insists that the pass is necessary to encourage acceptance of vaccination and avoid a fourth national shutdown, and those not attacked constitute eight or nine out of 10 Covid-19 patients admitted to the hospital.

Concern about anti-Semitism

The movement against the health pass has been marked from the beginning by slogans and symbols that have been denounced by Jewish groups and anti-racism activists.

Some protesters have sported yellow stars similar to the ones the Nazi regime forced Jews to show during World War II, prompting condemnation of Holocaust survivors for the offensive comparison.

Others have been photographed holding signs with the word “Who?” (meaning “Who?”), a coded reference to Jews accused of spreading Covid propaganda through the media and profiting from vaccination campaigns.

“What I find surprising is how (anti-Semitism) is recurrent and openly displayed,” SOS Racisme director Dominique Sopo told AFP.

“During the Yellow Vests movement it was something that was expressed on the margins … now the people who carry these posters do not hide and the other protesters do not react.”

The left-wing newspaper Le Monde condemned the rise in anti-Semitic behavior in an editorial this week, calling it “poison to society, a danger to us all.”

“Although anti-Semitism on the far right is old, it seems to be encouraged at this time by the rise of conspiratorial thinking,” he added.

Tristan Mendes-France, a specialist in the conspiracy movement, called Covid-19 “an accelerator of anti-Semitism because we are seeing a continually unfolding tragedy.

“People who have fallen for the online conspiracy theory movement are reminded daily of their anger and frustration that we are always talking about the epidemic. It’s like putting salt on an open wound.”

Overseas crisis

Although disputed, the health pass system has been effective in encouraging people to sign up for vaccines, with millions of people booking appointments in the days after its announcement on July 12.

Around 47 million people have received at least one dose, about 70 percent of the population, which is a higher rate than in Germany and Italy and only slightly behind Great Britain.

The most serious hot spots of Covid-19 are in the overseas territories of France, such as the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as in the Pacific islands of French Polynesia, where the most infectious variant of the Delta has opened He passed.

Polynesian authorities announced Saturday that schools, restaurants and bars will close for two weeks, while the night curfew will be brought forward an hour to 8 pm.

Tourists have been told to stay at their hotels on islands where the number of infections has increased by a multiple of 14 in two weeks, according to the islands chief Edouard Fritch.

France as a whole reported around 22,000 new infections in the past 24 hours, figures from the Health Ministry show.


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