The fourth week of protests was also the largest and included marches in Paris, Nice, Montpellier and Lyon, where police used tear gas on protesters who threw objects at police. The measures have brought together France's hard-left anarchists and hard-right militants, according to Reuters.
Projectiles were thrown and seven arrests were made in the southeastern city of Lyon while a tram line was blocked in Dijon. There were 35 arrests nationwide and seven members of the security forces were slightly wounded.
The new regulations endorsed by French President Emmanuel Macron make 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. According to estimates by the country's Ministry of the Interior, about 237,000 people turned out across France, including 17,000 in Paris. That figure exceeded the 204,000 recorded last weekend. (Related: French protesters show up in force to defy covid vaccination mandates.)
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."
"So far on the COVID crisis, the Constitutional Council has not been noted for its ability to go against the decisions of the government, to say the least," he said.
In one of several protests in Paris, hundreds marched from the western suburbs to the center, chanting "Freedom!" and "Macron, we don't want your pass!"
Wearing a mask, Alexandre Fourez, 34, said he was protesting for the first time and that he had himself recovered from COVID-19. "The problem with the health pass is that our hand is being forced," said the marketing employee, adding he "really has difficulty believing its use will be temporary."
At least 37,000 people protested in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region on the Mediterranean coast in cities including Toulon, Nice and Marseille, officials said. Slogans included: "The health pass means the death of freedoms."
From Monday, Aug. 9, the health pass will be needed in France to eat in a restaurant or enjoy a drink at a cafe – both indoors and on a terrace. It will be obligatory on inter-city transport, including high-speed trains and domestic flights. The health pass will not be needed on metro systems and suburban transport.
Establishments that fail to enforce the rules will face penalties while employees could face pay suspensions if they fail to get vaccinated. A health pass will also be required for nonurgent visits to medical facilities. Young people ages 12 to 17 are exempted from the rules until Sept. 3.
The pass has already been required since July 21 to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theaters and museums. Its extension was approved by France's Constitutional Council on Aug. 5.
In a slight easing of rules, Health Minister Oliver Veran said on Saturday that the time period over which a recent COVID test would be valid for the pass would be extended to three days instead of two. It will also be "possible to perform self-tests supervised by a healthcare professional, in addition to antigen and PCR tests. These too will be valid for 72 hours," Veran said.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the pass, which under current rules will be required until Nov. 15, was needed to avoid further restrictions amid a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protests were also held in several Italian cities on Saturday against the introduction of new measures in the country requiring proof of coronavirus status to attend indoor events. (Related: Italy to require vaccine passports, recent negative COVID-19 test for participation in social activities.)
The green pass, an extension of the European Union's digital COVID certificate, became compulsory in Italy on Friday, Aug. 6, 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. They were shouting "Hands off the children" and "Shame! Shame!"
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.
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