French anti-riot police fired teargas on Saturday as clashes broke out during protests in central Paris against COVID-19 curbs and vaccination, local television reported.
Television pictures showed police trying to push back demonstrators near the capital’s Gare Saint-Lazare railway station after the protesters pushed over a police motorbike carrying several officers.
At another protest called by far-right politicians in west Paris, demonstrators opposed to anti-virus measures carried banners reading “Stop the dictatorship”.
Across France, protests were also planned in cities including Marseille, Montpellier, Nantes and Toulouse.
French lawmakers are due to vote this weekend on a bill drafted by the government aimed at setting up a health pass and mandatory vaccination for health workers.
The health pass, previously only required for large-scale festivals or to go clubbing, will also be needed from the start of August to enter restaurants and bars and for long-distance train and plane journeys, as authorities try to slow the spread of the virus and encourage people to get vaccinated.
The new rule came as a shock for some on Wednesday.
“I was really angry… I had no idea,” said Nelly Breton, 51, after being turned away from the Louvre museum in Paris.
“But then I calmed down and understood there were health reasons,” she said, adding that she would now look for a pharmacy to get a rapid COVID-19 test.
Servane de Lansdheer, head of security at the museum, said this first morning of health pass checks was going well, with most visitors coming armed with the document and those who did not have it agreeing to get a quick COVID-19 test done.
The introduction of the health pass – a QR code on your smartphone or on a piece of paper – has proved hugely contentious in France, triggering protests nationwide.
To shouts of “Freedom!” and “No to the health pass,” more than 100 000 people joined rallies nationwide last weekend against a pass they say infringes their liberties.
More rallies – some leaning towards the far-left, others led by more right-wing anti-vaxxers – are planned in coming days.
Police sources cite concerns that the rallies could escalate into the kind of large-scale protests staged by the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ movement, which caused much disruption for about two years before being curbed by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Under the new health pass rule, holders of the document can remove their masks once indoors – in a loosening of precautions criticised by epidemiologists – unless local authorities or the business itself decide otherwise.
Businesses that fail to check that their clients have the health pass will eventually face fines that could total thousands of euros, but the government said there would be a grace period, to give everyone time to adapt to the new system.
Independent cinema owners tried in vain to get the decision postponed, arguing it would jeopardise the rebound in activity they have seen since being allowed to reopen two months ago.
But with a sharp increase in cases – more than 18 000 new ones were recorded on Monday – Prime Minister Jean Castex could shortly announce yet further new measures.
Local media including BFM TV say options being considered include encouraging remote work, reimposing masks outside in some places, having some businesses shut earlier than usual each day, or extending mandatory vaccinations to more professions, beyond health workers and those working in nursing homes.