Europe is battling with a surge of coronavirus cases prompting governments across the EU to implement new lockdown restrictions and mandatory vaccinations. France saw a colossal jump in cases on Sunday, from 12,496 a week ago to 19,749.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that “the fifth wave is starting at lightning speed” as he commented on the new numbers.
He added: “There is a very strong increase in infections, but we also know that in France we have a very large vaccination cover.
“We seem to be ahead of our neighbours concerning booster shots.”
He claimed the early introduction of a health pass ahead of other countries in the summer was also helping to keep Covid in check.
Mr Attal reiterated that the government will continue to “bring the weight of restrictions to bear on non-vaccinated people rather than vaccinated people”.
But as coronavirus infections spread across Europe, thousands of protesters have rallied against fresh lockdowns and vaccine rules in several capitals.
In the Netherlands, 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.
After daily deaths tripled in recent weeks, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced a fresh lockdown akin to Britain’s spring 2020 ‘stay at home’ measures, which could last up to 20 days from Monday.
The government has also said coronavirus jabs will be made mandatory from February 1, as only 66 percent of the population has 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.
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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 percent 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 percent 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.