As countries throughout Europe have seen spikes in COVID-19 and enacted new lockdown measures in recent weeks, protesters have appeared in the streets and clashed with police across the continent.
Police in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, Finland, Romania and multiple other European nations have faced violent backlash from anti-lockdown protesters as governments across the continent struggle to quash the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the spread of new variants. In the town of Kassel in Germany, where the government imposed a new set of lockdown restrictions amid a rise in positive cases, demonstrators and law enforcement engaged in a violent clash that led to police utilizing water cannons, mace, and batons after a group of protesters attempted to break through a police barrier and spill into areas not authorized for the demonstration. Police also noted most of the protesters did not wear masks, a violation of COVID-19 regulations.
In Berlin last week a large protest resulted in 140 arrests and nine law enforcement officers injured as clashes broke out when protesters tried to approach Parliament. Some skirmishes broke out between protesters and counter-protesters, and some anti-lockdown protesters attacked journalists. The event took place after Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government last week debated enshrining some COVID-19 regulations into an existing law. The protesters claim the new lockdown restrictions are an infringement on their freedoms and several demonstrations focused heavily on reopening schools.
The protests also come on the heels of some confusion over the rollout of the Astrazeneca vaccine. Germany and some other European countries halted the rollout of the vaccine amid concerns about blood clotting and other side effects. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) found no increased risk of blood clots that resulted from the vaccine being administered, though the agency did warn there are some preexisting conditions that may lead to blood clots and will continue their study. The vaccine rollout was resumed after 3 days, but public trust in the handling of COVID-19 has decreased amid the confusion.
The slow overall rollout of the vaccine across the European Union has also contributed to mounting tension, as the United States and United Kingdom continue to vaccinate at a much faster pace and the pandemic rages on. German database firm Statista published a study this week that showed the European Union lagging far behind the US and UK in vaccines administered per 100 people. The United Kingdom, as of March 21, had given 44 shots per 100 people, and the US had given 37. Health Secretary Hancock said on Saturday that half of all UK adults had received their first dose of the vaccine. The EU, however, had only administered 13 shots per 100 people.
The relative success of the vaccine rollout in the UK has not eased the strain of the pandemic, as stringent lockdown measures remain in place and UK residents become increasingly desperate for relief. One of the central issues being protested at a large demonstration in London on Saturday is the current rule against peaceful protests. Under current COVID-19 restrictions, it is still illegal for people to gather for peaceful protest, according to the Home Office. The crowds marched from Hyde Park to Westminster, and police arrested 33 people for breaching COVID regulations. The protest turned chaotic after dark, when some police were forced to flee back to their vans as protesters in Hyde Park threw bottles and other projectiles at the officers. Anti-lockdown protests in Helsinki, Vienna, Bucharest and Leistal, while largely maskless, remained mostly non-violent.
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ARTICLE: LAURA SPIVAK
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: BLOOMBERG