PARIS - Tens of thousands of people protested in Australia, France, Italy and Greece on Saturday, sparking clashes with police as they railed against COVID-19 measures and government sanctions against the unvaccinated aimed at prodding more people into getting their shots.
Dozens of protesters were arrested after an unauthorized march in Sydney, with the city's police minister calling those who took part "morons."
Organizers had dubbed the protest a freedom rally. Attendees carried signs and banners reading "Wake up Australia" and "Drain the Swamp.”
In France, where police deployed tear gas and a water cannon against some protesters, an estimated 160,000 took to the streets in nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron's health pass that will drastically curtail access to restaurants and public spaces for unvaccinated people.
'Don't touch our children'
"Freedom, freedom," chanted demonstrators in France, carrying placards denouncing "Macron, Tyrant," "Big Pharma shackles freedom" or saying "No to the pass of shame."
The demonstrations highlight the conflict globally between the advice of the World Health Organization and other public health agencies and people who for one reason or another refuse to be vaccinated.
In Indonesia and the United Kingdom, governments have eased pandemic restrictions even in the face of surging cases of coronavirus infection.
Meanwhile, around 5,000 people demonstrated in Athens, carrying placards touting slogans such as, "Don't touch our children," according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
Thousands of people protested in at least 80 cities across Italy as Rome tries to slow an upturn in COVID-19 infections. Most were not wearing masks.
The Green Pass, an extension of the EU's digital COVID certificate, will be required starting Aug. 6 for anyone who wants to enter cinemas, museums, indoor swimming pools or sports stadiums, or eat indoors at restaurants.
It will serve as proof bearers have either been vaccinated, undergone a recent negative COVID-19 test, or recovered from a coronavirus infection.
The decision Thursday to make the pass mandatory for many activities saw a boom in vaccine bookings, up 200% in Italy's smaller regions, according to COVID-19 emergency chief Francesco Figliuolo.
Half of Australia in lockdown
Earlier in Sydney, demonstrators pelted officers with potted plants and bottles of water as they defied a monthlong stay-at-home order, a day after authorities suggested the restrictions could remain in place until October.
New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was "utterly disgusted" by the protesters whose "selfish actions have compromised the safety of all of us."
Police said they issued nearly 100 fines and arrested 57 people.
In Melbourne, six people were arrested. police said.
New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott said a team of detectives would be scouring footage to identify and charge as many people as possible in the coming days.
"Sydney isn't immune from morons," he said.
Sydney, a city of more than 5 million people, is struggling to contain an outbreak of the delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading globally.
After escaping much of the early pandemic unscathed, about half of Australia's 25 million people are now in lockdown across several cities.
There is growing anger at the restrictions and the conservative government's failure to provide adequate vaccine supplies.
Just 11% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Harder to put off shots
In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the government is making it harder for reluctant citizens to put off getting their shots.
Legislation now being considered by lawmakers will make vaccinations compulsory for certain professions, while the controversial health pass will severely restrict social life for holdouts starting at the end of this month.
There were signs the tougher measures announced on July 13 were having the desired effect: 48% of the population were fully vaccinated as of Friday, up 8 percentage points from July 10.
While more than three-quarters of French people backed Macron's measures, according to a July 13 Elabe poll for BFMTV, a sizeable and vocal minority do not.
Elodie, 34, a care assistant at a Strasbourg nursing home, denounced "the blackmail of caregivers who were at the front line" during the first wave and who are now threatened" with "no more pay" and even being fired.
"They've been lying to us since the beginning," she said.
Source: Voice of America