Thousands of protesters rallied in cities across Europe over the weekend in protest at tighter restrictions imposed to combat the latest coronavirus wave spreading across the continent.
More than half of the global average weekly infections are now being recorded in Europe, with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19 saying the speed at which cases are rising is ‘a cause for concern’.
Dr David Nabarro told Sky News he can understand the protests, but added: ‘I’m really very, very anxious about what I’m seeing right across Europe, including now in Western Europe – these very large numbers of cases – but also the speed with which they’re increasing really is a cause for concern.
‘I’m not surprised because this virus is just not going away.
‘And I’m also not surprised that people are protesting because, actually, the public in so many countries are really fed up with what’s going on.
‘However, me, as a public health person, I’ve got to share with UK that we’re going to have to go on, we’re going have to go on resisting this virus and we do it through making it hard for the virus to get from one person to another with face masks and also with avoiding breathing in the air breathed out by others.’
Police in Brussels resorted to firing water cannon and tear gas at the 35,000 gathered to demonstrate against lockdown measures and the vaccine programme when projectiles were thrown.
The crowd, which included far right activists and LGBT campaigners, lined up behind a banner saying ‘Together for Freedom’ and shouted ‘freedom, freedom, freedom’.
In the Netherlands, more than 30 people were arrested after riots at The Hague on Saturday, following even worse violence the night before.
Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, condemned ‘an orgy of violence’ at Friday’s demonstrations where seven people were hurt and more than 20 were arrested.
Hundreds of rioters filled the capital to protest against a fresh three-week partial lockdown, plans to introduce a Covid vaccine pass and a ban on New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Protesters launched rocks and fireworks at officers and torched police cars, while Dutch police retaliated by shooting and wounding at least two people.
The following night, thousands gathered peacefully on Amsterdam’s central Dam Square despite organisers calling off the protest, while hundreds also marched through the southern city of Breda.
Austria has begun a fresh lockdown akin to Britain’s spring 2020 ‘stay at home’ measures, which could last up to 20 days from Monday after daily deaths tripled over recent weeks.
The government has also said coronavirus jabs will be made mandatory from February 1, as only 66% of the population have been vaccinated so far.
Around 35,000 demonstrators, many from far-right groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday bearing fire-lit torches and ‘my body, my choice’ banners to express their anger, while others burned face coverings.
Around 1,300 police were on duty as protesters launched fireworks and bottles at officers who retaliated with pepper spray to disperse the crowds.
Police said several protesters were detained, but did not give exact numbers.
Coronavirus cases have also rocketed in Switzerland, where around 65% of the population are now fully vaccinated, according to the country’s Federal Office for Public Health.
The nation is also holding a vote on November 28 over the use of the Swiss Covid certificate, which could be made mandatory for entry to certain public places based on vaccination status or proof of a negative coronavirus test.
On Saturday, thousands flooded the streets of Zurich and Lausanne to protest against policies including the certificate.
Previous protests in the Swiss capital, Bern, have turned violent, but police said the weekend’s demonstrations were peaceful.
Anti-vaccine sentiment is perhaps the strongest in Croatia, where only around 48.4% of the public have received a coronavirus jab, and infections have risen steeply in recent weeks.
Although the country is not in lockdown, masks are mandatory in all indoor public spaces, and in outdoor places where the 1.5-metre social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.
Cafes, clubs and restaurants are also subject to curfews and capacity rules, and indoor gatherings of more than 50 people are only open to those with the EU digital Covid certificate.
On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in the capital Zagreb carrying Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols, along with banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions of people’s freedoms.
Protesters also gathered in Milan and Rome on Saturday evening in response to the imposition of a health pass which must be shown to enter public spaces including the workplace, restaurants, football matches and other public events.
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