Around 17,000 people protested yesterday (July 14) against plans to extend the use of the French health pass.
The figure was an Interior Ministry estimate, though several French media sources quoted a police estimate of 19,000 for the protests, which turned disorderly in some French cities.
President Emmanuel Macron announced the plans on July 12, saying the pass sanitaire will soon be needed to access a wide range of public spaces including restaurants, shopping centres, cinemas and long-distance transport.
The pass proves that the bearer has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, has a negative test result taken within 48 hours or has previously had the virus and is considered immune. The aim of the plans however, is to persuade more people to get vaccinated, as the announcement included the fact that Covid tests for leisure and travel reasons would soon no longer be free.
The biggest protests were in Paris, Lyon and Toulouse.
In Paris, the préfecture de police said that protests “did not respect the approved route, projectiles were thrown [and] bins set on fire”.
In a tweet it encouraged protestors to go to the place de la République, the intended arrival point.
In Lyon, protestors were cleared from rue de la République with tear gas.
In Annecy, around 200 protestors broke a gate at the prefecture and spent an hour in the gardens inside, before rejoining the main protest.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin described the break in as “against the values of the Republic”. The incident is being investigated.
Protestors say ‘yes to life, no to the health pass’
Throughout France, protestors carried signs with slogans such as “My body, my choice, my life” and “Yes to life, no to the health pass”.
Extending use of the health pass comes as the president also announced that PCR and rapid antigen tests would no longer be free for people without a prescription from autumn.
This means that getting vaccinated would become the only free way to continue accessing a wide range of public spaces with a health pass.
The president also announced that vaccination would become mandatory for healthcare workers in France.
Some protesters said the rules meant France was becoming a dictatorship, however on Twitter Europe Minister Clément Beaune said it was a misuse of the meaning of the word and that he wished there were "a lot of dictatorships like France".
#Liberté | « J'ai entendu des gens expliquer qu'on était en dictature. Les mots ont un sens. La violence n'est pas justifiée, l'outrance et l'excès non plus. J'aimerais qu'il y ait beaucoup de dictatures comme la dans le monde... » @franceinfo pic.twitter.com/cPAQTIylt4— Clement Beaune (@CBeaune) July 15, 2021
Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, specialist in civil liberties, told FranceInfo he expected the Conseil d’Etat (the highest administrative court in France) to support the government’s proposals, after they are put to parliament on July 21.
He said the court would find that the rules were “justified”, even though they constitute “an infringement on individual freedoms, without a doubt”.
“[It is] an infringement on freedom of person, rights over our own bodies to decide to not get vaccinated and potentially an infringement of our rights in the future to come and go as we please.
“[But] are there sufficient reasons and sufficiently important reasons meaning that we should collectively accept this infringement? That is the question that has been asked throughout the health crisis.”
Mr Spinosi, who works at the Conseil d’Etat and the Cour de cassation (one of France’s four supreme courts), said the legal bodies were more likely to suggest modifications to the government’s plans, if necessary, than to block them altogether.
He added that obligations for healthcare workers and school children to get vaccinated against other illnesses already exist in France, and are supported by French and European courts.
The president’s address came as demand for vaccination appointments was starting to slow in France.
Directly following his speech, online reservations shot up. On July 13, France hit a new record for the highest number of vaccinations given in one day, at 792,339.