Europe’s protests against Covid-19 curbs spread to Brussels on Sunday as tens of thousands of protesters marched through the city center in protests that later turned violent.
Demonstrations also erupted over the weekend in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Croatia when European governments efforts to combat a sharp rise in infections putting pressure on healthcare systems across the continent and last week urged the World Health Organization to express concern.
In Brussels, some 35,000 people took part in initially peaceful protests near EU headquarters. The protest later erupted into violence. Police deployed water cannons, tear gas and mounted officers in response to a group throwing projectiles.
Police made more than 40 arrests after breaking into several stores, and video on social media showed barricades on fire and police cars badly damaged. Three police officers were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Belgium has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, but again sets restrictions in as cases rise. The country’s most vaccinated province, West Flanders, has one of the highest infection rates in the country. Last week, the government expanded work-from-home rules and tightened restrictions on unvaccinated people.
There was a second night of rioting in the Netherlands on Saturday over the imposition of new coronavirus restrictions. The disorder led to dozens of arrests across the country, with authorities deploying mounted police, dogs and water cannons in three provinces after protesters set fires and threw stones and fireworks.
Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have experienced Western Europe’s fastest growth in business since the beginning of the month. Late last week, Germany’s caseload reached a record high, with acting health minister Jens Spahn saying a full closure could not be ruled out.
Austria began a national closure on Monday, while further restrictions will also come into effect in other European countries.
In Greece, people who have not been vaccinated will not be allowed in indoor spaces, including restaurants, theaters, museums and gyms. Vaccination certificates for those over 60 will only be valid for seven months, with people then having to get a “booster” injection to maintain validity.
In Slovakia, the country’s prime minister, Eduard Heger, announced a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” from Monday.
In the Netherlands, unrest was sparked by plans to restrict the use of the Covid Pass to those who have either been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19. Previously, it also covered people with a negative test result. A ban on fireworks for New Year’s Eve celebrations also provoked anger.
The new restrictions are expected to last for an initial three weeks.
Saturday’s unrest followed rioting in Rotterdam on Friday night when police opened fire on hundreds of protesters. Authorities defended the use of force, with the city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, blaming the crowds for a “an orgy of violence”.
In Austria, thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday night to protest against the national collapse and plans to make vaccination compulsory. Die polisie het die aantal betogers op 40 000 gestel.
Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will be closed until at least December 12th. The measures will be reviewed in 10 days.
“The atmosphere became hot among some groups of protesters and led to repeated clashes with the police. In front of the palace gate [Heldenplatz] “Police were forced to use pepper spray against aggressive activists,” police said in a statement. They said about 1,300 officers from across Austria had been brought in to help.
Thousands have also marched in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, against new vaccination mandates for health workers.
In Italy, hundreds of people took to the streets in Rome to protest against the introduction of a “green pass” needed to gain access to premises, workplaces and public transport.
Additional Reporting by Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens