Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 474, 19 January 2022

France: New round of protests over COVID-19 passes
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 16 January, the French government passed the legislation on the vaccine pass to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus. However, the move sparks tens of thousands of anti-vaccine protestors to demonstrate across cities of France such as Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Lille against the new vaccine pass. Earlier, France witnessed demonstrations, where more than 105,000 people protested against the new bill passed, introducing the new Covid pass. The signboards of the protestors read as "Liberte" and "no to vaccine passes."

Issues at large
First, the State's efforts. France and other European countries impose stricter Covid measures and stress on taking vaccines due to the faster spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 300,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in France in the past weeks. Despite 90 per cent of the population being vaccinated, the anti-vaxxers seem to be the trigger for the State to use legislation to pressurize the vaccines on its people.

Second, the debate over the conversion of the pass and the larger issue. Initially, people entered public spaces like restaurants, theatres, and bars using a negative test certificate. With the new law, people must show the fully vaccinated certificate to access the same. The larger issue is related to the freedom from these Covid measures, freedom to access the public spaces, and freedom to exercise their rights and liberty, which is now being taken away by the government in the name of vaccine laws.

Third, the protests across the transatlantic. The anti-Covid protests are not seen only within Europe but across the transatlantic. It can be mapped from New Zealand, Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom to Canada and the US. The severity of these protests may vary from country to country, but these protests are loud in the global North. 

Fourth, increasing aggression of the protestors. Although the protestors in France are observed to be less in number than other European states, in terms of aggressiveness, it tops the chart. No other members of the parliament or health minister have faced death threats or have come in direct contact with the protestors.

In perspective
The State, across Europe and elsewhere, is under pressure and has a tough choice to make. Should it aim to arrest the spread and increase the vaccination efforts or address the individual liberty of those unwilling to vaccinate? While the anti-vaxxers are on the streets, a large majority is apprehensive about not getting vaccinated. The State also has to address the issue of governance - whether to spend more energy on addressing the health issues or address the unrest in the streets.

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