Protesters took to the streets of France for the fifth consecutive Saturday to oppose the country’s pass sanitaire – health pass – now required for everyday activities.
More than 250,000 people were expected at about 200 demonstrations, an increase in the number that officials said had turned out last week. Protesters have accused the government of underestimating the numbers and playing down support.
The protesters are opposed to the government’s decision to make the pass sanitaire obligatory for restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres and most public buildings apart from shops. They accuse the government of infringing their civil and personal liberties. A number are also opposed to the vaccination of children; France has been vaccinating the 12-17 age group since May.
To obtain a health pass, individuals must be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative Covid-19 test or have had the coronavirus in the past.
Protests in France are unusual in August, when many families are away, especially around the 15th of the month, which is an important public holiday.
President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to make the pass obligatory for those wishing to return to a more normal life is aimed at coercing the population to get vaccinated. Ministers hope it will also avoid a return to harsher restrictions including lockdowns and curfews.
So far an estimated 46 million French people – 66.8% – have had at least one vaccination and just under 39 million are fully vaccinated. The country is on track to reach its target of 50 million people vaccinated at least once by the end of the month.
France is currently delivering 240,000 first jabs a day – compared with about 36,000 a day in the UK.
Florian Philippot, the leader of nationalist party Les Patriotes, at a demonstration in Paris on Saturday. Photograph: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images
The anti-pass movement appears to be strongest in the south of the country, where there are also the lowest rates of vaccination. The protests have united the far right and hard left as well as a wide number of people in between including conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, the gilets jaunes and those politically opposed to Macron and centrist government.
“I am for the vaccine and had it months ago, but not the health pass, which is discriminatory,” one protester said.
In Paris there were three separate marches, including one led by Florian Philippot, a former adviser to far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who left her party in 2017 and now heads his own called Les Patriotes. All were heavily policed. There were also demonstrations in Lyon, Toulon, Montpellier, Nice, Marseille and Perpignan.
The government says the number of protesters is lower than the number of people getting vaccinated every day and the silent majority appears to be in favour of the health pass.
Julien Bargeton, a senator for the governing La République en Marche party, told BFMTV: “The solution is the vaccine. It’s simple, the vaccine saves life and the virus kills.
“What really worries me is the health situation, that French people protest that’s their right … in reality, a majority of French support the health pass.”