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Protesters Say France's Anti-Virus Pass Is A Threat To Personal Freedoms

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

More than 200,000 protesters gathered across France over the weekend. It was a third round of demonstrations against the country's new health-pass requirements. Some protesters cast this not as resistance to vaccines but as a matter of personal freedom. Rebecca Rosman reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Liberte.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Chanting liberte, thousands of protesters circled around the Plaza de la Bastille in Paris Saturday afternoon. Some held signs accusing President Emmanuel Macron of being a dictator. Starting August 9, people will have to scan a QR code showing proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter bars, restaurants and cinemas and to travel long distances by train. Demonstrators said they would resist the new rules.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Does that mean I will not go to the restaurant, I will not go nowhere?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: I don't download the application. I boycott every commerce who use this kind of system.

ROSMAN: Some shouted conspiracy theories, saying they believe the pandemic was planned in advance and that it was part of a plot for drug companies to make more money. Other demonstrations were held in Marseilles, Leone and Bordeaux. The Paris march was led by Patriot party leader Florian Philippot. Once a right-hand man to the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Philippot has widely been condemned for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLORIAN PHILIPPOT: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Speaking to the French television channel BFM on Sunday, a news anchor interrupted after Philippot made the false assertion that people who were vaccinated could just as easily spread COVID-19 as those who were not.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHILIPPOT: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

(CROSSTALK)

ROSMAN: "What we know today and what no one is questioning anymore is that the vaccines are effective," another panelist and doctor responded, adding, "When it comes to a risk-benefit analysis, it's better for the general population to be vaccinated." President Macron has been faced with a difficult balancing act when it comes to addressing concerns of vaccine skeptics and curbing the spread of new COVID-19 infections, which are on the rise. Government data shows an average of 21,000 cases per day, compared to only a few thousand two weeks ago. But recent polls show the majority of the population approves of Macron's vaccination strategy. Vaccine appointments skyrocketed the morning after Macron first announced his plans to implement a health pass. The government says more than half of the country is now fully vaccinated and says it's on track to deliver at least one dose to 75% of the population by late August.

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "AFTER THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.