More than 100,000 people took to the streets across France over the weekend to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s tough new vaccination strategy, which will restrict access to restaurants, cafes, movie theaters, long-distance trains and more for the unvaccinated.
Demonstrators in Paris and elsewhere vented against what some called Mr. Macron’s “dictatorship” after he announced that a “health pass” — official proof of vaccination, a recent negative test, or recent Covid-19 recovery — would be required for many to attend or enter most public events and venues.
At the same time, however, his policy seemed to have the desired effect: Record numbers of people flocked to vaccination centers in advance of the new rules coming into effect next month.
It made for a striking split-screen image as millions lined up for vaccines — so desperately sought in much of the world suffering outbreaks but with little access to doses — as an increasingly strident group from both the far left and far right decried Mr. Macron’s policies as government overreach.
Some protesters caused particular outrage after drawing parallels between their situation and that of the Jews during the Holocaust. Some wore a yellow star that said “nonvaccinated,” others carried signs or shouted slogans that compared the health pass to a Nazi-era measure.
“This comparison is abhorrent,” said Joseph Szwarc, 94, a Holocaust survivor who was speaking on Sunday as France commemorated the victims of racist or anti-Semitic acts by the Vichy government.
“I wore the star, I know what it is, I still have it in my flesh,” said Mr. Szwarc said at a ceremony in Paris.
Two vaccination centers were also vandalized over the weekend. One, in southwestern France, near the Spanish border, suffered a fire that the local authorities suspect to have been arson; another, in southeastern France, near Grenoble, was flooded and tagged with anti-vaccine graffiti.
The number of protesters, however, has paled in comparison with the daily figures for new vaccination appointments and injections, which have skyrocketed since Mr. Macron’s announcements. Right after his speech, over 1.7 million appointments were booked within 24 hours on a single website; last Friday, nearly 880,000 people received a shot in a single day, a record.
Over 36 million French adults have received a first shot so far, and nearly 30 million of them have been fully vaccinated.
And polls show broad support for Mr. Macron’s muscular strategy, which also plans to force people who test positive to self-isolate for 10 days, to make vaccination mandatory for health workers — who will face suspension of pay or even dismissal by the fall if they don’t get their shots — and to stop widespread free testing.
Mr. Macron’s announcements were formalized in a bill presented by the government on Monday that is set to be passed by Parliament later in the week.
The number of daily infections has jumped in recent days, a rise that health authorities have attributed to the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Over 12,500 new cases were recorded on Sunday, a record since mid-May.
“It’s either general vaccination, or a viral tsunami, there is no alternative,” Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, told Le Parisien newspaper on Sunday.
Mr. Attal also described the protesters who have marched against the government’s plans as “a fickle and defeatist fringe” that did not reflect the majority opinion of “hardworking and proactive” France.
“Between the two, there are obviously French who have sincere doubts and must be convinced,” Mr. Attal said. But, he added, “we don’t want the choice of the unvaccinated to weigh upon the vaccinated.”
Some politicians, especially on the far left and far right, have criticized Mr. Macron for suddenly imposing the health pass after promising several months ago not to use such a measure.
“There were and there are other solutions, including to convince our fellow citizens to get vaccinated,” lawmakers for the far-left France Unbowed party said in statement on Monday.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum have also said that they would file a motion with France’s Constitutional Council to verify that the new bill complies with the French Constitution.