Big protests mark global anger at Covid-19 restrictions

A protester holds an Italian flag as he takes part in a demonstration in Piazza del Popolo in Rome on July 24, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - More than 100,000 people protested in Australia, France, Italy and Greece on Saturday (July 24), sparking clashes with police as they railed against Covid-19 measures and government sanctions against the unvaccinated aimed at prodding more people into getting jabs.

Dozens of protesters were arrested after an unauthorised march in Sydney, with the city's police minister branding those who took part as "morons".

Organisers had dubbed the protest a "freedom" rally.

Attendees carried signs and banners reading "Wake up Australia" and "Drain the Swamp".

In France, where police deployed teargas and water cannon against some protesters, an estimated 160,000 took to the streets in nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron's health pass that will drastically curtail access to restaurants and public spaces for unvaccinated people.

'Don't touch our children'

"Freedom, freedom", chanted demonstrators in France, carrying placards denouncing "Macron, Tyrant", "Big Pharma shackles freedom" or saying "No to the pass of shame".

The demonstrations highlight the conflict globally between people caught between the advice of the World Health Organisation and other public health agencies and the need to earn a living - or simply to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.

In Indonesia and Britain, governments have pressed ahead with easing of restrictions even in the face of surging Covid-19 cases.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 people demonstrated in Athens, carrying placards touting slogans such as, "Don't touch our children", according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

And in Italy, protesters gathered in Rome to demonstrate against a mandatory "green pass" for indoor dining and entertainment.

Earlier in Sydney, demonstrators pelted officers with pot plants and bottles of water as they defied a month-long stay-at-home order, a day after authorities suggested the restrictions could remain in place until October.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was "utterly disgusted" by the protesters whose "selfish actions have compromised the safety of all of us".

People take part in a protest against compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations for certain workers and the mandatory use of a health pass in Paris' Trocadero Square. PHOTO: AFP
A protester runs through tear gas during a demonstration against compulsory vaccinations and the health pass in Paris. PHOTO: AFP
French police officers detain two protestors during a demonstration in Nantes, western France, on July 24, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Police said they issued nearly 100 fines and arrested 57 people.

In Melbourne, meanwhile, six people were arrested. police said.


New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott said a team of detectives would be scouring footage to identify and charge as many people as possible in the coming days.

"Sydney isn't immune from morons," he said.

Sydney, a city of over five million people, is struggling to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading globally.

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After escaping much of the early pandemic unscathed, around half of Australia's 25 million people are now in lockdown across several cities.

There is growing anger at the restrictions and the conservative government's failure to provide adequate vaccine supplies.

Just 11 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

People demonstrate against Green Pass in Turin, Italy. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Anti-vaccine demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Covid-19 vaccinations, in Athens, Greece. PHOTO: REUTERS

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the government is making it harder for reluctant citizens to put off getting the jabs.

Legislation now being considered by lawmakers will make vaccinations compulsory for certain professions, while the controversial health pass will severely restrict social life for holdouts from the end of July.

There were signs the tougher measures announced on July 13 were having the desired effect: 48 per cent of the population were fully vaccinated as of Friday, up eight percentage points from July 10.

While more than three-quarters of French people backed Macron's measures, according to a July 13 Elabe poll for BFMTV, a sizeable and vocal minority do not.

Elodie, 34, a care assistant at a Strasbourg nursing home, denounced "the blackmail of caregivers who were at the front line" during the first wave and who are now threatened with "no more pay" and even being fired.

"They've been lying to us since the beginning," she said.

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