Vaccination centres have been burnt to the ground
In the name of freedom, French anti-vaccine militants have attacked two vaccination centres in recent days, burning one to the ground.
In the name of freedom, more than 100,000 people demonstrated in 130 towns last Saturday.
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In the name of freedom, some of the demonstrators wore yellow stars of David or carried banners in which President Emmanuel Macron was depicted with a Hitler moustache. The suggestion that vaccination, forced or otherwise, can be compared to the Holocaust has caused widespread consternation in France — and not just amongst French Jews.
The protests last weekend included an extraordinary coalition of the usual suspects of French street politics from the far-Left to the far-Right and from the stubborn rump of the Gilets Jaunes anti-Macron movement of 2018-9.
Other demonstrators — many others — self-identified themselves as being non-political people: restaurant owners, nurses, care-workers all infuriated by Macron’s decision to make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for health workers and necessary from August 1st for access to bars, restaurants cinemas and long-haul trains and buses.
Further manifs (demos) are expected next weekend. The numbers involved so far are small — by French standards — but they are still much higher than the government expected. They may grow. Alternatively, they may fade away as holiday season advances.
The two attacks on rural vaccination centres — one in a marquee at Urrugne in the western Pyrenees was entirely destroyed — are isolated incidents so far. There have also been attacks on the constituency offices of leading pro-Macron politicians and threats of violence against pro-vax politicians on line.
It is important to bear in mind that the great majority of French people — 60 to 70% according to opinion polls — approve Macron’s decision last week to make France’s voluntary vaccination programme much less voluntary. From mid-September health and care workers face suspension and then dismissal if they fail to get vaccinated. From 1 August, access to most forms of fun as well as long-distance travel will require a “health pass”, indicating full vaccination or a recent negative test.
Macron justified this decision with two sets of figures. Firstly, a spike in Covid patients driven by the Delta variant threatens to cause a fourth wave of the pandemic, potentially as quickly as by the middle of next month. Secondly, the French vaccination programme, after a strong recovery from a slow start, has slumped, mostly because of lack of demand from young people in their 20s and 30s.
It is important to keep a sense of perspective in light of these protests. The great majority of French people have reacted positively to Macron’s ‘big stick’ legislative changes. Yes, over 100,000 people demonstrated last weekend — but around 6,000,000 people have signed up for their first jabs since Macron announced the policy on Monday of last week.
The manifs are respectable enough (Holocaust references apart). Anti-vaccine arguments are acceptable — even necessary — in a democracy, self-righteous and conspiracy-obsessed though they may sometimes be. However, the increasing turn towards violence amongst the vaccine-skeptical is a disturbing development. Macron must act now to punish those responsible, before the situation escalates out of control.