Europe Spirals Into Mayhem: Protests Over Tightened COVID-19 Restrictions Continue
By Staff, Agencies
European countries, tackling spiraling numbers of coronavirus cases, have witnessed a third day of protests against a resurgence of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, with many of the riots turning violent.
The Netherlands became the first Western European nation to impose a partial lockdown since the summer on Saturday amid soaring COVID-19 cases, with 23,000 new infections recorded on 18 November.
An emergency order had to be put in place in the city Centre in Enschede and in Groningen, in the south of the country, where fires were started and police pelted with stones.
According to local media reports, 15 people were arrested in the city of Roosendaal, where protesters set a primary school ablaze. The police also had to intervene in Leeuwarden, Roosendaal and Tilburg, with a number of arrests reportedly made in North Limburg.
The lockdown, set to last for at least three weeks, will see restaurants, bars and essential shops closing by 8 p.m. and non-essential retail shops and services - by 6 p.m. Social gatherings at homes have also been limited to groups of four. A ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve has also angered locals.
In Belgium’s capital, Brussels, thousands of people turned out in protest over a decision to ban unvaccinated people from entering restaurants and bars as surging cases saw infections reach 13,836 on Sunday alone.
As the government introduced a spate of restrictions including an order to work from home at least four days a week, some 35,000 are said to have moved from the North Station in Brussels on Sunday afternoon in a march under the slogan “Together for Freedom”.
Some of the protesters clashed with riot police near the Belgian capital's EU and government district, as they lit flares, lobbed projectiles at riot police, forcing law enforcement to resort to water cannon and tear gas, with some arrests made.
Reports speak of 42 people detained; two were arrested in the riots, which resulted in three police officers sustaining injuries and being taken to hospital, reported local media. One participant in the riots is said to have been hurt after a flare exploded in his hands.
Under new restrictions in Belgium, people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will be required to wear a mask unless seated. People wanting to enter a restaurant or theatre may only do so by presenting a COVID pass, showing proof of either vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery.
Austria has also been churning as it re-entered lockdown – its fourth since the pandemic - with vaccinations to be made mandatory in February, in line with an announcement made on Friday by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg.
Tens of thousands of people protested in the capital Vienna ahead of the lockdown, brandishing national flags and banners that read "Freedom", with protesters shouting "Resistance!”
Comparing the current lockdown and mandatory vaccination measures with the Nazi era, some protesters had worn the yellow star as badges, with the words “unvaccinated” stitched on.
Towards the end of the weekend Austrian protests gathered in strength and violence, with some attending the gatherings purportedly seen setting fires in the streets. Other reports said that rioters threw rocks through the windows of local businesses, including a post office, with several police cars said to have sustained damage.
Austria's Interior Minister Karl Nehammer slammed the events as “unacceptable”.
In Italy, a 3,000-strong crowd carrying banners that read “People like us never give up” turned out in the capital's Circus Maximus field, dating to Roman times, to protest against “Green Pass” certificates required at workplaces, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, sports venues, gyms, long-distance train, bus or ferry travel within the country.
Several hundred people protested outside the city hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, against vaccine passports for entering nightclubs, bars and restaurants – a decision taken by the government earlier in the week, set to take effect on 13 December.
In Switzerland, 2,000 people protested an upcoming referendum on the government's proposed COVID-19 restrictions law, slamming it as discriminatory, according to broadcaster SRF.
Thousands gathered in Croatia’s capital Zagreb, carrying national flags and religious symbols, along with banners against coronavirus vaccination and what they describe as “restrictions of people's freedoms”.
In Denmark, over one thousand people are reported to have gathered outside the Danish parliament in Copenhagen to protest the reintroduction of the national health pass.
Similar protests engulfed Sweden.