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Drivers in France plan Canada-style ‘freedom convoy’ over vaccine pass

A blockade beginning in some places today plans to restrict traffic into Paris on Saturday. Police say it is too early to know how significant this will be

Close up photo of an HGV vehicle on a road

HGV drivers in France are planning a blockade to Paris to protest against the vaccine pass Pic: Vitpho / Shutterstock

HGV and other drivers in France are beginning ‘freedom convoy’ blockades in protest against the vaccine pass today (February 9).

It comes despite some experts predicting that the pass may no longer be needed by spring.

The drivers are planning to reach Paris on Saturday (February 12), with a view to blockading roads leading towards the capital before heading towards Brussels on Monday.

Lorries are only expected to make up a small proportion of the vehicles in each convoy.

The protesters have been inspired by the actions of HGV drivers in Ottawa, Canada, where for days roads have been blocked with vehicles and tents to protest against anti-Covid measures, paralysing the city centre and forcing the mayor to declare a state of emergency.

France’s convoy organisation has developed in much the same way as the gilets jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019, depending heavily on social media. 

The principal Facebook page for the French organisation shows some 270,000 members, and includes posts with plans for convoys departing from Brest, Lille, and Metz and various other cities in the west and south of France. 

There also exist other regional social media groups related to the protests and a chat on end-to-end encrypted messenger service Telegram has over 24,000 members.

The first convoys are setting off for Paris this morning from cities including Nice, Bayonne and Perpignan. Members of the public are advised to leave extra time for journeys if they are travelling through affected areas. 

A site called convois.fr appears to give details of the exact departure times and locations of the different convoys, but the source and therefore accuracy of this information has not been confirmed. 

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told BFMTV yesterday (February 8) that: “At this point we do not have any information which demonstrates that convoys are being planned on a huge scale,” but “the mechanisms” put in place to prevent road blocks “are significant.” 

The national police has also told Franceinfo that it will “receive information on the movements which are developing from regional services, in order to form an estimation of the [size] of this event,” but that it is “a little early to know if the protests will gain traction.”

On Monday morning (February 7), an early convoy including around 30 protesters attempting to reach Paris was stopped between Essonne and Seine-et-Marne by the authorities.

Who is involved in the protests?

One of the movement’s leaders, Rémi Monde (believed by Franceinfo to be a pseudonym for Rémi B., who was formerly an entrepreneur in southern France) said: “It will be a convoy leaving from all over France to reach the capital. They will be made up of individuals with their own vehicles, campervans or private cars.”

He emphasised: “It is important to remember that this is a peaceful and joyful gathering.”

Mr Monde has been protesting against France’s health pass since last summer, publishing videos on social media containing comments from controversial medical figures such as Didier Raoult and Louis Fouché. He had also been linked to the Nuit debout and gilets jaunes protest movements, as well as climate activism campaigns. 

Another influential figure within the protests is a nurse from Hautes-Alpes called Maria C., who acts as the spokesperson for Convoy France. She has appeared in the past on BFM DICI, stating misinformation about the Covid vaccines. 

One protester named Sylvain, who owns a transport company, said that he will be taking part in a convoy departing from Vaucluse. He is not vaccinated.

He said: “I haven’t been to a restaurant or cinema in two years. I have had enough, and so have enormous numbers of people currently in France.”

HGV driver unions have distanced themselves from the convoy movement, with the secretary general of Fédération SUD-Solidaires Christophe Denizot telling Libération: “They are including us in a movement which we are not involved in.”

A member of left-wing party La France Insoumise has, however come out in support of the protesters.

Adrien Quatennens, who is a La France Insoumise MP for Nord department, told Franceinfo today that: "We must revoke the vaccine pass and finish with all these restrictive measures which are not effective." If suppporters of La France Insoumise wish to take part in the protests, he said that he will therefore "encourage them to go," adding that, in addition to the vaccine pass objections, "there are demands related to other issues, most notably purchasing power." 

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said during a press conference today that the government was "perfectly aware that people are tired of the epidemic and the measures which remain in place" but that "France has probably taken some of the least restrictive measures in Europe." 

He added that vaccine pass measures would be lifted "as soon as the situation improves."

What is the French vaccine pass?

Named the ‘freedom convoy’ (convoi de la liberté in French), the main object of the protest is the vaccine pass, which is now required for entry to most public spaces in France, and requires the user to prove they are fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from Covid or are medically exempt from getting vaccinated. 

Negative Covid tests are no longer valid for entry.

Read more: Checklist: Where are vaccine passes required in France? 

Millions of people in France risk losing the use of their vaccine pass on February 15 if they do not get a booster vaccine, when the rules will change to mean that people must get a booster within four months of their last injection (except if they have had two jabs and caught Covid once, or one jab and caught Covid twice).

Read more: Recap: How to avoid losing your French vaccine pass on February 15

Canada convoy

The convoy has been inspired by events in Canada in recent days. A blockade at the Alberta Coutts border crossing, also dubbed the ‘Freedom Convoy”, was mounted by truckers in protest against new restrictions on unvaccinated cross-border drivers. 

The rules require unvaccinated workers to take a test and quarantine when returning home to Canada from across the border in the US.

The protesters eventually gathered in central Ottawa near Parliament hill, their objections expanding to Canada’s wider Covid response and the government of President Justin Trudeau.

Vehicles and tents have paralysed Ottawa’s centre, and Mayor Jim Watson has said that the city is “completely out of control” and resident safety is at risk. He told the CFRA radio station that protesters were behaving “insensitively” by “blaring horns and sirens, [setting off] fireworks and turning it into a party.”

A state of emergency has been declared in the city, which will grant frontline workers and emergency services additional powers. 

Health experts: spring brings cause for ‘reasonable optimism’

Plans for a French blockade come as some experts predict that the coming arrival of spring could help hasten a “return to normal life”. 

This could see the lifting of rules such as wearing masks or requiring a vaccine pass to be shown.

Health Minister Olivier Véran told BMFTV: “Today, we’re no longer wearing masks outside, except where prefects have decided to. Indoors, we’ll do that when the virus is spreading much less. If the epidemic follows its course, with a drop in Omicron [cases], we’ll follow suit indoors by the spring.”

Read more: Masks no longer mandatory outside in France: where must they be worn?

Dr Jean-Louis Teboul, head of the intensive care medicine department at Bicêtre Hospital (AP-HP), said that Mr Véran “is right” to suggest that “we have passed the peak”.

He said: “Figures from outside of France are showing a slowdown, and here in France we are already seeing that in some regions [and] we have seen a drop in hospitalisations in the last few days. 

“But,” he said, “There are still territories that are extremely affected.”

Dr Teboul agreed that the arrival of spring would likely have a positive effect. 

Another doctor, Professor Philippe Froguel, from the CHU hospital in Lille and Imperial College London, said: “We can hope, if all goes well, that we will see the end of this wave in February.

"If all goes well, if we don't have another variant even worse than the ones that have already happened, usually by spring, as the heat comes back, we should be in a good place, which means that the distancing measures will gradually disappear. 

“We can be reasonably optimistic as long as we keep our eyes open.”

Related articles

French vaccine pass: third dose not needed if had two jabs and Covid 

Nine million people in France risk losing vaccine pass if no booster

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