114,000 protest against health pass and vaccination in France

Protesters in most major cities said that the new rules amounted to a ‘health dictatorship’ 

18 July 2021
By Hannah Thompson

More than a hundred thousand people in France have protested this weekend against the extension of the health pass and mandatory vaccination, announced by President Emmanuel Macron this week.

At least 136 separate protests were recognised by authorities on Saturday, July 17; including in Paris, Perpignan, Lyon, Montpellier, Marseille, Nice, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Quimper; with the Interior Ministry putting the figure at almost 114,000 nationwide.

There were at least 18,000 people in Paris. 

Slogans called out and written on placards across the country included “Freedom!”, “No to the health dictatorship!”, “Macron resign!”, “Our body, our choice!”, “No to mandatory vaccination, vaccination freedom is a right!”, and “Is this democracy in France?”.

Protesters included the former deputy of the then-Front National, Florian Philippot; the singer Francis Lalanne; and Jacline Mouraux, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes.

Martine Wonner, the controversial MP for Bas-Rhin, said that the new rules amounted to “dictatorship” and “segregation” and called on protesters to “invade MP surgeries to say that you are not OK with this”.

In response, head of LREM MPs and former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner called on the LREM president of the l’Assemblée nationale, Richard Ferrand, to “refer the matter to the Paris public prosecutor”.

In a letter seen by the Agence France-Presse, he wrote: “Within the context of the rise of threats and acts against MPs, especially parliamentarians, it cannot be tolerated that an MP, sitting next to us, can spread such words, inciting hate and rebellion, including violent acts.”

Before the protests, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of right-wing party Debout la France, held a press conference, in which he condemned the president’s announcements as “an unprecedented abuse of power” and a “health coup”.

He said that requiring the health pass in daily life constituted the “beginning of a spiral towards dictatorship”.

Some protesters later said that requiring a health pass to identify your Covid-19 status had overtones of requiring Jews to wear yellow stars of David in 1930s Germany.

But one protester told Le Monde: “We are not all anti-vax. We just want to have the freedom to be vaccinated or not. PCR tests could be enough, they should remain free.”

President Macron said that Covid-19 tests would no longer be free in the autumn.

Read more: €49 for a PCR test without prescription from autumn

Another protester, a 39-year-old care worker from Montpellier, said: “We have doubts about the Covid vaccines. It’s not like we believe the Earth is flat, it’s just that we don’t know the long-term effects of these cobbled-together-quickly vaccinations that Macron wants to impose on us.”

There were around 5,500 people in Montpellier; 4,000 in Marseille; 2,800 in Strasbourg; 2,500 in Toulouse; 2,300 in Valence; 1,700 in Clermont-Ferrand; 1,600 in Nice; 1,200 in Bordeaux, and 1,200 in Perpignan. 

In Bordeaux, protesters also blocked roads and tramways; and in Dijon, police used tear gas to disperse crowds.

Nine people were arrested in Lyon due to a non-authorised protest of 900 people, the Rhône prefecture said. Authorities said that police had glass bottles and other projectiles thrown at them, prompting them to retaliate with tear gas.

One protester questioned AFP journalists, asking: “Why are you lying, journalists? Why don’t you say that we are in a dictatorship? You are complicit.”

Protests against the new rules also took place on July 14.

It comes after President Macron announced that the health pass will be needed to enter a wide range of public spaces that can accommodate over 50 people by early August, including restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres, gyms and for long-distance travel within France.

He defended the move, saying: “Should I close restaurants and cinemas again because some people choose to not get vaccinated? To these people I say: You cannot have the same rights because you have not taken on the same responsibilities.  

“I don’t consider that taking away people’s freedoms. It is simply a reminder that in a nation, freedom implies responsibility.”

The government hopes that this will encourage more people in France to get vaccinated, as fully-vaccinated pass bearers will be able to enter all public areas without having to pay for a PCR or rapid antigen test beforehand.

So far, this seems to be working in general. Directly after the president’s announcement on Monday evening, 17,000 vaccine appointments were being booked per minute.

This week, France also confirmed that vaccination would become mandatory for 70 professions in the healthcare and elderly care sectors, with sanctions for people who do not comply. This will concern more than 1.5 million people, who will now need to be vaccinated before September.

Related stories

President Macron defends rules for French health pass after protests
The new rules for the French health pass from July 21
Non-vaccinated people represent 80% of new Covid cases in France
Reaction: France mandatory vaccine plan covers 1.5m workers in 70 jobs

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