Protesters took to the streets in several European countries over the weekend to demonstrate against COVID-19 vaccine mandates after EU governments started to ramp up related restrictions in recent days.
In Austria, tens of thousands of people protested in Vienna, Salzburg, and other cities after the Austrian government announced the implementation of a nationwide lockdown to deal with what it has described as a surge of COVID-19 cases. Austria’s lockdown, which follows a so-called lockdown on the unvaccinated, will start on Nov. 22 for an initial 10 days before government officials will reevaluate it, meaning that people can leave their homes only for certain reasons, including going to the doctor, buying groceries, or exercising.
The Austrian government said it will make vaccines mandatory for everyone starting on Feb. 1, 2022.
On Nov. 20, many waved Austrian flags while carrying signs with slogans such as “no to vaccination,” “enough is enough,” or “down with the fascist dictatorship.” Authorities said the crowd surged to about 35,000 people in Vienna.
The right-wing Freedom Party’s head, Herbert Kickl, also told a crowd that “as of today, Austria is a dictatorship.” He then decried “totalitarian” measures by Austria’s government, which he said “believes it should think and decide for us.”
Five police officers were injured in the Netherlands and at least 40 people were detained across three of the country’s provinces during protests on the evening of Nov. 20 and the morning of Nov. 21. Dutch authorities used water cannons, dogs, and mounted police to stop individuals who set fires and threw fireworks at officers.
The protests were sparked by opposition to government plans to restrict the use of a national COVID-19 vaccine passport to people who have either recovered from COVID-19 or have been vaccinated, now excluding those with a negative test result.
Dutch officials also reimposed lockdowns starting on the weekend of Nov. 12 for an initial three weeks. Authorities again claimed that such moves would slow the spread of the virus, although studies have suggested that numerous lockdown efforts around the world have proven to be fruitless in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 or reducing deaths.
“People want to live. That’s why we’re here,” protest organizer Joost Eras said over the weekend.
However, those protesters are “not rioters,” according to Eras.
We come in peace,” he said, distancing himself from the chaos that took place in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Nov. 19.
Thousands also turned out for rallies in Switzerland and Italy. The Swiss people protested a forthcoming referendum on whether to approve the government’s COVID-19 restrictions law, while Italians again demonstrated against the government’s “green pass” vaccine passport system.
Protests also were reported in Ireland, Croatia, France, the UK, and the French island territory of Guadeloupe, where demonstrators set police cars on fire and created road blockades.
Reuters contributed to this report.