Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the UK, Australia, France, Canada, Italy, Greece and Germany to publicly challenge oppressive public health measures and laws over the past few months. The messages on the signs they held were diverse but they were united in pushing back against government overreach.

No large demonstrations have been held yet in the U.S., but polls reveal the nation is sharply divided about coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandates.

A poll taken by Politico and Harvard University in late June found that Americans were evenly split on whether children should be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine to go to school and more than half of employed Americans are against COVID-19 vaccine requirements for jobs. Nearly 70 percent of Americans also oppose being required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to enter a store or business.

A recent CS Mott Children’s Hospital poll found that more than half of parents in the U.S. with children between the ages of three and 11 say it is unlikely they will give their children the COVID-19 vaccine.

Brits say no to future lockdowns and vaccine passports

In May, a 12-mile procession of tens of thousands of people ended at Parliament Square in a protest against continuing lockdowns and vaccine passports as a condition of accessing public venues in the UK. (Related: UK hospitality industry not sold on government’s plan to require COVID Pass.)

On July 24, just five days after the lockdown restrictions were lifted in the UK, thousands of people made their way to Trafalgar Square to signal their opposition to potential future lockdowns, as well as to protest against the showing of COVID-19 vaccine passports as a condition of entering public spaces.

There were banners draped in front of the speaker podium saying, “The public demands live debate” and “Science is not science without discussion.” The demonstrators held signs that said: “No forced testing, no forced vaccines” and “If you tolerate this, your children will be next.”

Australians push back against lockdowns

Australians have been subjected to repeated strict lockdowns over the past 18 months. The government’s stay-at-home lockdown in early July was imposed on New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, where over 16 million of the country’s 25.8 million population live. The 30-day rigid social distancing restrictions were enacted after 176 new daily infections were recorded in the country.

Social distancing restrictions that have been imposed include compulsory masking in all indoor non-personal residence settings; shutting down schools; restrictions on how far people can travel from their homes; no going to work except for designated essential employees who must be tested every three days; exercising and gathering outside only in groups of two; shopping only for essential items; limiting attendance at funerals to 10 people; and banning weddings.

In response, thousands of Australians gathered in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on July 24 to protest the restrictions.

As many as 10,000 protesters marched from Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district carrying signs. Dozens of protesters climbed onto the roofs of a train station and Woolworths store as the crowd gathered around Town Hall singing the Australian national anthem.

The Sydney protest was mostly peaceful but some broke through a police barrier and threw plastic bottles and plants at officers when the demonstrators were told to disperse or they would be pepper-sprayed. Minister David Elliott of the New South Wales Police and Emergency Services confirmed that 57 people were arrested and charged, and a “strike force has been established to investigate who was in attendance.”

Huge demonstrations in France enter fifth week

France saw tens of thousands of protesters marching across Paris, Nice, Marseille and other French cities in the past five weeks to demonstrate against the government’s COVID-19 vaccine passport mandate.

An estimated 215,000 people joined the fifth week of the protests on Aug. 14 – slightly down from the 237,000 people who demonstrated the previous week, according to France’s Ministry of the Interior.

The fourth week of protests was the largest and included marches in Paris, Nice, Montpellier and Lyon, where police used tear gas on protesters who threw objects at police. 

The protesters were opposing mandatory vaccination for health care workers and the use of health pass to access many public indoor activities. They often chanted “freedom,” “pass equals apartheid” and “take back your pass,” referring to the vaccine passport.

Many French citizens view the COVID-19 passports as a way to segregate society for political purposes. The French Parliament approved the COVID-19 health pass law in late July. The country’s top court upheld the law earlier this month, as well as a law mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health workers.

The new regulations endorsed by French President Emmanuel Macron made it obligatory to have a full course of vaccination against COVID-19, a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy routine activities. Macron, who faces re-election next year, hopes to encourage all French to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and thereby defeat the virus and its fast-spreading delta variant.

Critics argue the rules encroach on civil liberties in a country where individual freedom is highly prized. Florian Philippot, former vice president of the National Front and one of the leading opponents of the health pass, claimed that “there are many constitutional principles that are trampled underfoot by this law.”

Canadians, Italians stage protests against vaccine passports

There were also demonstrations in Quebec, Canada, which recently mandated COVID-19 vaccine passports for restaurants, bars and gyms.

“It should be the choice of each person whether to be vaccinated. With the passports, it is a means of forcing us [to get vaccinated],” said Veronique Whalen of Montreal, the most populous city in the province of Quebec.

Protests were also held recently in several Italian cities against the introduction of new measures requiring proof of COVID-19 status to attend indoor events.

The green pass, an extension of the European Union’s digital COVID certificate, became compulsory in Italy earlier this month to enter cinemas, museums and indoor sports venues or to eat indoors at restaurants. School and university staff, as well as university students, will also need the pass. The pass will be required on domestic flights and long-distance trains from Sept. 1.

More than 1,000 people gathered in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome shouting “no green pass” and “freedom.” Thousands more marched in Milan. Around 100 people from the “No Vax” movement also gathered in Naples, objecting specifically the vaccinations for children.

The green pass proves bearers have either been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours.

Greeks, Germans unite against vaccine mandate

In Greece, thousands of people gathered at Omonia Square in the center of Athens on July 24 to express their opposition to the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

According to Athens News, the demonstration included “not only anti-vaccination activists, but also food and tourism entrepreneurs, clergy and vaccinated citizens who view recent government measures as anti-democratic.”

Greek police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators, who had rallied outside the Parliament building to protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers.

In Germany, tens of thousands of citizens marched in the streets of Berlin on Aug. 1 to protest lockdowns and requirements to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

The German protesters defied a ban by German lower and upper administrative courts on public demonstrations. Berlin’s administrative court had refused to authorize 13 demonstrations, some of which had been organized by the Querdenker anti-lockdown movement.

Berlin’s police department deployed more than 2,000 officers armed with batons, pepper spray and water cannon. Police in heavily armed vans reportedly dragged protesters across roads and into the vans. Protesters continued to march in the evening through the city streets and 600 people were arrested.

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