French protesters demanding action on coronavirus flout ban on large gatherings

Demonstrators filled a Paris neighbourhood today calling for coronavirus screening for all and more funding for health services to tackle the outbreak.

Protesters with the National Union of Students of France (UNEF) thought measures taken by French authorities don’t go far enough. But people were quick to point out that they disobeyed a nationwide ban on public gatherings of more than 100 people introduced yesterday to prevent people passing on the airborne disease.

The restriction is also being flouted by President Emmanuel Macron, who confirmed that Sunday’s local elections will go ahead as planned – despite the fact they are bound to attract large crowds of potentially infected voters.

Marching through the Montparnasse area of the capital today, UNEF called for the Government to ‘impose emergency measures for health that meet our needs’ and urged people not to ‘trust the one who cut thousands of beds and jobs’ to deal with the outbreak.

The union added: ‘Thousands of people are denied screening due to lack of resources. But for the ministers, this poses no concern.’

It was not the only French protest that went ahead today despite the nationwide lockdown.

Security forces fired teargas and clashed with anti-Government ‘Yellow Vest’ protesters demonstrating in Paris chanting anti-Macron slogans.

The demonstrators, named after the high-visibility jackets they wear, were holding a 70th consecutive Saturday of action.

Sunday’s vote is an important test for Macron, with opponents now particularly angered by his plans to reform the French pensions system. His party is not expected to do well.

One pensioner said: ‘We had to come and mark the day to tell Macron that we’re still here and that we won’t accept his pension reform.’

Voters will begin choosing mayors for 35,000 town halls and almost half a million councillors on Sunday in elections overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to hit turnout.

Macron decided to go ahead with the elections despite concerns over the spread of the illness, which have led the government to shut schools and universities, suspend major sporting events, curtail public transport and close tourism attractions.

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