Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in cities across Europe over the weekend as part of rallies against new lockdowns implemented to combat fresh waves of COVID-19 infections.
Demonstrations against new lockdown measures were seen continent-wide on March 20, including in Austria, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Romania, and Switzerland.
Although largely peaceful, many protests resulted in arrests, clashes with law enforcement officers, and conflict between demonstrators angry at government-imposed restrictions, and counter-protesters.
Many European countries are grappling with how to halt a resurgence of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus before hospitals become overwhelmed, even as vaccines are being rolled out.
The virus has so far killed more than 2.7 million people worldwide, with cases up globally by 14 percent in the past week, according to data from Agence France-Presse.
Various groups, including Worldwide Demonstration, had called for protests Saturday in countries across the globe.
Worldwide Demonstration on its website called on “all opponents of the Coronavirus Restriction policies of their own government” to participate in a global protest on March 20, saying that livelihoods and freedoms have been “destroyed” by lockdowns and border closures.
“We have had our bodily autonomy violated by mask mandates, and plans to mandate coronavirus vaccinations are being rolled out internationally.These are unacceptable constraints on our freedom,” its website states. “As one massive, united, and peaceful community, we will stand up and demand an end to the current restrictions and authoritarian control measures.”
The group states that it stands for peace, freedom, democracy and solidarity.
In the central German city of Kassel, where the action group was formed, more than 20,000 people defied a court ban to protest lockdown measures, reported local news agency DPA. According to the agency, some officers and journalists were attacked by protesters.
The majority refused to comply with protocols put in place to curb virus transmission, such as wearing face masks. Federal police, who were brought in beforehand from other parts of Germany, used water cannons and helicopters to control the crowds, according to DPA.
The demonstration came as CCP virus infections have recently surged in Germany, and the government is set to decide on how to react in the coming days. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday the country will have to apply an “emergency brake” and reverse some recent relaxations of restrictions.
Elsewhere in central London, at least 33 people were arrested Saturday for breaching COVID-19 restrictions, according to a Twitter statement from the Metropolitan Police.
Some demonstrators in Romania were seen holding signs opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. According to The Associated Press, they held signs that read: “Parents, protect your children.”
Signs reading “Vaccination kills” were held by some other demonstrators in Switzerland.
In Finland, some 400 maskless demonstrators gathered in Helsinki to rally against government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, police said. Smaller demonstrations were scheduled in cities across the country.
Hundreds of people in the Finnish capital were heard chanting slogans such as “Let the people speak!” and carried signs with messages such as “Facts and numbers don’t add up.”
Helsinki police said on Twitter that the registered march and rally took place peacefully but violated social distancing requirements and Finland’s current limits on public gatherings.
Despite a global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines rollout, health experts are urging people to remain cautious to prevent further transmission of the virus.
“I’m really concerned if we declare victory prematurely that the same thing that’s going to happen,” infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC’s Today show on Saturday.
“Vaccines are coming on really well … If we can just hang on a bit longer, the more people get vaccinated, the less likelihood that there is going to be a surge,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.