Why are there more anti-Covid pass protesters in Toulon than in Paris?

This weekend saw another round of protests, with numbers in the Var city overtaking those in Paris, as almost 215,000 marched nationwide 

16 August 2021
Large crowd of protesters during health protest. Why are there more anti-Covid pass protestors in Toulon than in Paris?

Protests took place across France yet again this weekend, with a significant number in Toulon (Photo shows Albi, Tarn) Pic: S. Pech / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

Protests in Toulon, southern France, overtook the numbers seen in Paris this weekend (August 14), as 22,000 people showed up in the city to march against the Covid-19 health pass rules.

This marked an increase from the 19,000 seen in the Var city last weekend (August 7), and a significant jump from the 13,000 seen the weekend (July 31) before that.

The presence in Toulon was notably high; above that seen in Paris (13,900); almost four times the number in Marseille (6,000); and almost 10 times that in Lille (2,650) and Aix-en-Provence (2,500).

Local newspaper France Bleu has asked if Toulon is becoming “the new capital of the anti-pass movement”, and said that the definite reason for the mass attendance in the city is unclear.

Some attendees said that the “safety” of the protests meant more people showed up, as one protester, Laurence, said: “It’s a peaceful protest, we never let things disintegrate”; while another, Richard, simply said: “It’s probably because we have big mouths around here!”.

Some suggested that holidaymakers from Paris could have boosted numbers in Toulon.

What is certain is that nationwide, attendees vary significantly in their views and reasons for protesting. Each week, they have included healthcare workers, gilets jaunes, families and holidaymakers, and motorbike riders, plus members of the extreme left, and of the extreme right.

Not all are anti-vaxx; some have had the vaccine but are calling for others to have “freedom to choose”.

Using figures from l’Assurance maladie, University of Marseille health geographer Emmanuel Vigneron has shown that vaccination coverage still varies considerably across France.

There is a clear north-south divide, with the highest vaccination coverage seen in the north and northwest, and the lowest in the south and southeast. 

Historians and analysts have suggested that the split shows the cultural divide between richer areas closer to Paris, and poorer areas further from the capital, where there is traditionally more resistance and rebellion towards ‘dominance’ from ‘central authority’ from Paris.

(Map: Jean-Jaures.org)

The high numbers in Toulon came as almost 215,000 people protested across the country, a slight drop from the 237,000 seen the weekend before. More than 200 protests took place nationwide, with 214,845 people counted in total.

There were also protests in Montpellier, Nice, and Perpignan.

The marches have continued and increased in size even as the health pass restrictions have come into force. A pass is now required for entrance to the majority of public places, including restaurants and bars.

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