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French police clash with anti-vaccine demonstrators amid tensions over ‘health pass’ plans

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/31/2021 Miriam Berger
Protesters hold signs which read in French, “freedom” and 'no to the vaccine passport” in Paris on July 31, 2021. (Michel Euler/AP) © Michel Euler/AP Protesters hold signs which read in French, “freedom” and 'no to the vaccine passport” in Paris on July 31, 2021. (Michel Euler/AP)

Police in Paris used tear gas Saturday as thousands of protesters joined marches to denounce plans for vaccine “health passes,” the latest tensions around the world over government mandates to reward those who get vaccinated and maintain restrictions on those who refuse.

About 3,000 members of police and security forces were deployed in the French capital ahead of the demonstrations, which have flared weekly since the government announced the vaccine pass plans. Police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters in some areas. Protests also were held in other cities across France.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Twitter that police arrested 10 protesters in Paris and nine elsewhere in the country. He said demonstrators also injured three officers.

a group of people riding skis on a snowy road: Riot mobile in Paris on July 31, 2021 confront protesters against plans for “health passes” for vaccinated people to allow access to restaurants and other public venues. (AFP/Getty images) © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images Riot mobile in Paris on July 31, 2021 confront protesters against plans for “health passes” for vaccinated people to allow access to restaurants and other public venues. (AFP/Getty images)

France is among a growing number of nations imposing rules aimed at encouraging vaccinations as the delta variant increases infection levels in parts of the world. France’s government-mandated health pass, set to begin Aug. 9, will require a vaccination, a negative coronavirus test or proof of having recently recovered from covid-19 to enter restaurants and other public spaces. France is also requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated by mid-September.

French protesters on Saturday made “liberty” the slogan of the day’s demonstrations.

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But polls have shown that most people in France support the health pass. While some vaccinated people may still become infected with the coronavirus, vaccines greatly reduce the likelihood of someone developing severe symptoms, requiring hospitalization or dying of covid-19, the disease cased by the coronavirus, according to public health experts.

Scientists have warned that the longer the virus spreads, the more chances it has to develop potentially more contagious or vaccine-resistant strains.

The pandemic leads to another summer of anger

Video: French police clash with anti-virus pass protesters (Associated Press)

More than 52 percent of France’s population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but pockets of resistance remain strong. On Friday, the country confirmed about 24,000 new coronavirus infections, a major increase from the few thousand being reported daily at the beginning of July.

a crowd of people: Protesters hold up a banner which reads 'freedom' in Paris on July 31, 2021. (Adrienne Surprenant/AP) © Adrienne Surprenant/AP Protesters hold up a banner which reads 'freedom' in Paris on July 31, 2021. (Adrienne Surprenant/AP)

Meanwhile, plans for demonstrations in Germany were curtailed after Berlin authorities refused to authorize 13 marches that were expected to bring tens of thousands of protesters to decry coronavirus restrictions.

Judges at Berlin’s administrative court said the ban was necessary to prevent a further rise in coronavirus infections with the expected crowds.

How vaccine-skeptic France and Germany came to support near-mandates

Berlin police spokesman Thilo Cablitz said the ruling targeted protests “whose participants regularly do not follow legal regulations, specifically to protect against infections,” like wearing a face mask, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Some of the protests had been planned by Querdenker, or “lateral thinker,” Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, known to spread conspiracy theories and misinformation about vaccines and the pandemic.

Germany has also been reporting a recent rise in cases, outbreaks that experts say have been led by the delta variant and spread by the unvaccinated. The delta variant was identified in just 8 percent of coronavirus cases in Germany in early June. By July 22, it had increased to 84 percent, according to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease-control agency.

‘The war has changed’: Internal CDC document urges new messaging, warns delta infections likely more severe

In Malaysia, hundreds of demonstrators — wearing face masks and social distancing — took to the streets to protest the government’s handling of the virus and to call for the prime minister’s resignation.

a group of people holding a sign: A protester holds placard during a demonstration demanding the prime minister step down near the Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 31, 2021. (FI Wong/AP) © Fl Wong/AP A protester holds placard during a demonstration demanding the prime minister step down near the Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 31, 2021. (FI Wong/AP)

Malaysia’s embattled prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has been under pressure to step down since taking power in March 2020 after forming a razor-thin ruling coalition with the opposition.

In January, Muhyiddin declared a pandemic-related state of emergency, a move that also enabled him to suspend parliament until Aug. 1. His critics say he has used the pandemic as an excuse for seizing power.

Saturday’s march in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, drew from largely young people frustrated with a steady rise in coronavirus cases despite the country’s lockdown. Demonstrators called for Muhyiddin to resign, for the resumption of parliament and for the government to provide aid to those financially hit by the pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

Amid a heavy police presence, many wore black and some carried mock corpses to symbolize the country’s growing death toll.

After being blocked by police from entering a central public square, protesters sat in the street about three-feet apart with a banner that said: “The government failed.” The march later dispersed peacefully.

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