Paris police hold 81 over banned anti-vaccine convoy

Paris police said they arrested 97 people who defied a ban on a Canada-style protest convoy over coronavirus regulations to try block traffic in the capital, with 81 still in custody Sunday.

protest convoy
French anti-riot policemen detain a woman on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Thousands of demonstrators from across France attempted to block traffic in the capital Saturday in a self-proclaimed “freedom convoy” of cars, trucks and campervans. Hundreds of them continued on to Brussels on Sunday.

In Paris, more than 100 vehicles managed to converge on the Champs-Elysees avenue, where police used teargas to disperse protesters in scenes reminiscent of the “yellow vest” riots of 2018-2019.

Dozens of people remained on the famous avenue and in the nearby Bois de Boulogne forest park until early Sunday.

Prosecutors said one of those being held was Jerome Rodrigues, a leader of the “yellow vest” protest movement, which engaged in running battles with the police every weekend for several months in late 2018 and early 2019.

The Paris police department also said an internal inquiry has been opened after a video emerged on social media showing an officer striking a demonstrator on the head on the Champs-Elysees.

The protest is one of several worldwide inspired by the truckers’ standoff with authorities in Canada.

In France, the demonstrators took aim at the “vaccine pass” required to enter restaurants, cafes and many other public venues implemented as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s inoculation drive.

“This Covid pass is just the latest in a series of anti-freedom measures in our country – we have freedom of movement in Europe, yet we’re being stopped by the police, we don’t have the right to be here and carry a flag,” Daniel Bravo, 61, told AFP.

Over 400 vehicles camped out at several sites around Paris overnight, and organisers have called for people to head for Brussels for a major demonstration on Monday, a police source said.

However not all are expected to make the trip, the source said.

Belgium has banned the protest, and its Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has urged would-be attendees to “go and protest in your own country”.

‘Fatigue’ and anger

The demonstrations, with convoys setting out from cities across France, come two months before presidential elections in which Macron is expected to seek re-election.

On Friday, Macron said he understood the “fatigue” after two years of the pandemic.

“This fatigue also leads to anger. I understand it… But I call for the utmost calm,” he told the Ouest-France newspaper.

The government has said it plans to relax face mask mandates by February 28th, and is hoping to end the vaccine pass requirement by late March or early April.

Some 24,000 more people demonstrated in other parts of the country Saturday, the authorities said, including in the southern city of Montpellier, where radical fringe activists broke the glass facades of two banks.

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Will France’s Covid-19 health pass be consigned to the past?

France suspended but did not cancel the Covid pass in March - but the government has suggested it might not return, even with the country in the grip of the virus’s seventh wave

Will France's Covid-19 health pass be consigned to the past?

Cases of Covid-19 in France have risen 57.8 percent in the past week with daily cases topping the 200,000 mark on Tueday.

The virus’s seventh wave has the country in its grip – but it seems the government has no plans to reintroduce vaccine pass measures.

READ ALSO How serious will France’s seventh wave of Covid-19 be?

The vaccine pass –  itself a two-month development of the old health pass which had been required for entry to certain venues such as bars, restaurants and cafes – was suspended on March 14th, as cases of Covid-19 in France fell. But the health emergency law that enforced it was still in effect and allowed it to be reactivated at any time.

That law runs out on July 31st. Now, it seems the pass will not return. Reports in the French press last month claimed that the health ministry was discussing the possibility of re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire, a bill intended to replace the current health emergency laws makes no mention of it. 

The new president of the National Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet, confirmed this week that the vaccine pass was not included in the new bill, entitled “health monitoring and security”, which will be submitted to the National Assembly for debate from July 11 and will, if passed, come into law on August 1st – the day after the current law expires.

“[It] is not what is planned in the text of the law that will be submitted to parliament this week,” Braun-Pivet said.

Rather, the bill extends epidemic surveillance and contact case identification systems until March 31st, 2023. 

The second provides for the implementation of border control measures – such as requiring visitors to France to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test – if a so-called variant of concern were to spread rapidly abroad, as confirmed by new government spokesman Olivier Véran. 

Currently, most health rules in place at the height of the pandemic have been relaxed. Masks are only required in French hospitals, health centres and places that have vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. They are also recommended in crowded spaces where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

READ ALSO French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport