Despite soaring virus in Europe, 20,000 rally against coronavirus, face mask in German
London, August 2, 2020 (AltAfrica)-As German officials warn of soaring infection numbers, large crowds gathered in Berlin, Germany on Saturday to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions, including the face mask requirement
Some 20,000 people protested anti-pandemic measures in the German capital, Berlin with many participants dismissing the coronavirus as a “false alarm.” Some had to be forcibly removed by the police after the rally was stopped.
The protests took place on the same day that German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said he wanted tougher action on COVID-19 rule breakers.
“Anyone who deliberately endangers others must expect that this will have serious consequences for him,” Altmaier said.
The number of infections in Germany has been on the rise recently, with 955 new cases recorded on Saturday and 870 on Friday.
The surge has been attributed to the public becoming negligent on hygiene and social distancing rules, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the German government’s disease control and prevention agency.
“The virus of freedom has reached Berlin-Germany,” said one of the organizers, Michael Ballweg.
Others chanted: “We are the second wave,” as they moved through the German capital.
Police estimated that around 17,000 marched through Berlin and a total of 20,000 attended the culmination of the event.
They said they could not confirm the “an exorbitantly large number” of participants thrown around on Twitter, in a likely reference to organizers claiming 1.3 million people attended the rally.
As Germany is experiencing a strong increase of new #COVID19 cases, this is happening right now in Berlin. #b0108— Benjamin Alvarez (@BenjAlvarez1) August 1, 2020
A “Day of Freedom” with conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers & right-wing extremists. No one is wearing a mask. pic.twitter.com/VpGess4wbq
Some protesters carried a banner calling for the arrest of US billionaire Bill Gates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Health Minister Jens Spahn and others.
Spahn commented on the event, saying that “Yes, demonstrations must also be possible in the time of corona, But not like this.”
“Distancing, hygiene rules and daily masks serve to protect all of us,” he wrote on Twitter.
Lawmaker Saskia Esken, one of the two leaders of the center-left SPD party, slammed the attendees as “covidiots.”
“Thousands of covidiots celebrate themselves in Berlin as the ‘second wave’ with no distancing, no masks,” she said. “They are not only jeopardizing our health, they are jeopardizing our achievements against the pandemic and the revival of the economy, education and society.”
Hours into the protest, however, plans to continue along a wide boulevard that runs through the park were shelved after a police complaint.
Berlin police said they had launched legal action against the organizer over “non-respect of hygiene rules.”
The initial rally had only registered for 1,000 participants.
In the late afternoon, police used loudspeakers to order demonstrators to leave the area peacefully.
Officers also removed several organizers from the stage, to shouts and boos from those attending the rally.
When the attendees failed to move on, police told them they were committing misdemeanors, which led to further yelling and booing. Some of the participants had to be carried away by the police after refusing to leave the scene.
The police have just announced for the third time that they’re dissvolving the protest because noone is adhering to distancing rules or wearing a face mask. They ask people to leave, the protestors are chanting “freedom” and “we are the people”, not moving anywhere. #b0108 pic.twitter.com/ACTyg9Z2qu— Leonie Hammerstein (@hammerstein_leo) August 1, 2020
DW’s Leonie von Hammerstein noted a counterprotest took place, with many citizens angry at those wanting to break the rules.
Counter protesters are welcoming the “end of the pandemic” protestors with banners “stand up against the right”. Very apparent difference: one group is wearing (the mandatory) face masks, the other one isn’t. Both are shouting “nazis raus” (Nazis, get out). #b0108 pic.twitter.com/Giixi8w32P— Leonie Hammerstein (@hammerstein_leo) August 1, 2020
“The difference is the counter protesters are wearing face masks, are keeping the [correct] social distance. Whereas the other protesters are not, they have been shouting ‘the pandemic never happened.’
She then described experiencing verbal abuse from some protesters, including one man who shouted in her face.
“He believed in conspiracy theories. He believed Bill Gates was behind the coronavirus and wants to forcefully vaccinate everybody and the German government is helping him to do that,” von Hammerstein said
js,dj/mm (AFP, dpa, DW)