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Will lockdown protests ignite here?


A COUPLE of weeks ago I wrote about the #IoAPRO (I am Open) movement of small businesses defying orders to close, starting in Italy and spreading to other parts of Europe. 

It came on the heels of the anti-lockdown protests that began last October. Never in recent history have democratic governments clamped down on their citizens’ most basic freedoms to such an extreme degree. Not even under emergency legislation in the Second World War was the government so controlling of private lives and human interactions. Curfews, lockdowns, and restrictions on our way of life have become the norm for the best part of a year now, not just here but all across the world. Waves of protests are spreading across the globe while governments are doing their best to smother them. People in Austria, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary and Slovenia are taking to the streets in large numbers against draconian Covid restrictions, and forcing their governments to hear what they have to say.

In the Netherlands, the worst riots of more than four decades were sparked by a 9pm to 4.30am curfew which took effect on January 23 and mass civil disobedience has spread. In the town of Urk, a PCR testing centre was set on fire. In the southern city of Eindhoven rioters torched a car and looted a supermarket and train station.

Last week a court in The Hague ruled that the overnight curfew was illegal and that the government had wrongly used its emergency powers, stating the ‘curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy and (indirectly) limits, among other things, the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration.’ This ruling, which stunned the government, was overturned by an appeals court later on the same day and remains in effect.

In Austria, 10,000 people gathered in Vienna’s central Maria Theresien Square for a peaceful ‘corona walk.’ One protester said: ‘The cancellation of political rallies and of demonstrations reminds me of the events in February 1934.’

In Belgium nearly 500 arrests were made as police broke up demonstrations on Sunday January 31. These came against the backdrop of earlier violent protests against police brutality after a 23year-old man identified as Ibrahim B died in custody.

On one level it did not come as much of a surprise to hear French President Emmanuel Macron saying ‘non’ to France’s third national lockdown given the widespread demonstrations across the country. But instead of lockdown, Macron went for tighter restrictions on travel and shopping. France still has a night-time curfew in place after the second lockdown ended in December.

In other parts of the world, demonstrators in Australia, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and Morocco are expressing their rage at the ongoing restrictions on their daily lives.

In Morocco, there have been protests in the northern city of Fnideq against worsening living conditions caused by Covid lockdowns and restrictions.   

There is a night-time curfew and all shops, cafes and restaurants are closed.

In Israel, orthodox Jews clashed with police in Ashdod and Jerusalem. Authorities have faced increasing difficulties in enforcing lockdown measures on the religious communities. Many of them have defied the restrictions and carried on praying in their synagogues and holding weddings and funerals.

In Cyprus, authorities have drawn international criticism because of shocking footage of police violence against demonstrators. There is anger about Covid restrictions and lockdown measures, as well as over allegations of systemic corruption.

The story is the same around the world. The people have had enough. They are now forcefully lifting the lid off the oppressive measures their governments have inflicted upon them on the premise of ‘keeping them safe’ from Covid.

Mass protests in the UK have not taken off in the same way as in other countries, perhaps because of Rishi Sunak’s apparently bottomless money pit. Furlough has been extended to June. But will that be enough to keep the compliant and terrorised British public at home? On March 20, the anniversary of the first lockdown being enforced and the week the Government will seek to extend its coronavirus emergency legislation, an anti-lockdown protest has been announced for central London.

With months still to go before normal life – travel, hospitality and weddings – can resume following the Prime Ministers’ snail pace ‘road map’ to freedom announcement yesterday, I just wonder if the British acceptance of restrictions is about to change.

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Sonia Elijah
Sonia Elijah
Sonia Elijah has a background in Economics. She's a former BBC researcher and now works as an investigative journalist. Follow her on Twitter @sonia_elijah.

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