Protesters throughout Europe conflict with police over COVID-19 lockdowns: NPR
People without a face mask take part in a protest against government restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus in London on Saturday. Alberto Pezzali / AP Hide caption
Alberto Pezzali / AP
Alberto Pezzali / AP
Anger over the restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic hit the streets of Europe on Saturday.
The German police used water cannons, pepper spray and clubs on demonstrators who gathered in the central German city of Kassel, where around 20,000 demonstrators lived, because of the coronavirus lockdown. Protests against government measures to contain the pandemic have also been reported in Austria, Great Britain, Finland, Romania and Switzerland.
Germany is facing an increase in COVID-19 infections as a more contagious variant of the virus has spread. Experts say it underscores the need to speed up vaccinations.
However, a botched vaccine rollout seems to have deepened distrust of the federal government. The suspension of the vaccine against AstraZeneca was the latest hurdle in Germany’s efforts to vaccinate its 83 million residents.
After a three-day hiatus in using AstraZeneca, Germany is now trying to correct course.
“The motto is” vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate “”, said Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting with the heads of state and government of the 16 states of the country.
NPR’s Rob Schmidt reported that “Germany, at the start of the pandemic, was a global model for managing this pandemic”. But a year later, the opposite appears to be the case. Only 8.5% of Germans received their first shot on Friday, far behind other nations like the USA and Great Britain
The rapid introduction of vaccines in the UK – it was the first in the world to deliver a fully tested vaccine – was a surprising achievement for the Boris Johnson administration, which has received heavy criticism for its response to the virus.
But it didn’t stop thousands of people from taking part in anti-lockdown demonstrations in London on Saturday. Protesters held placards reading “Fear Western Monsters, Not the Virus” and “Stop Destroying the Lives of Our Children” as they marched through central London – along Oxford Street, the Embankment and Parliament Square before they went to Whitehall.
In Hyde Park, police were pushed back into their vans as protesters hurled bottles and cans at them. The BBC reported that few protesters wore masks. According to the City of London Police, 36 people were arrested during the rallies, most of them in violation of COVID-19 regulations.
The protests took place on the same day as 60 MPs called on the Interior Minister to ease restrictions on demonstrations. Due to coronavirus restrictions, it is currently illegal for groups to gather for the purpose of protest. But the measures were directly attacked this week.
The outcry over lockdowns has combined with a wave of anger over the kidnapping and death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who went missing on the way home earlier this month. Her body was found a week later, and a serving policeman was charged with her murder. Police are under scrutiny for their alleged persistent tactics in breaking up a well-attended outdoor vigil for Everard last Saturday, which sparked three nights of protests.
A Home Office spokeswoman told Reuters: “While we are still in a pandemic, we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with more general coronavirus restrictions.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to introduce a controversial new law to ban protests that are loud or cause “serious harassment” with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.