A resurgence of COVID-19 restrictions in a number of countries has resulted in protests, with some demonstrations turning violent and leading to dozens of arrests.
On Saturday night, the Netherlands saw protests at The Hague, with demonstrators lighting fires throughout the area, defacing property and pelting officers with rocks and fireworks, according to police. The disruption went on until around 1 a.m., and police took 19 people into custody before the night was over.
That demonstration also ended with five officers injured, according to the Associated Press. One officer suffered a knee injury as well as a concussion, and others sustained hearing damage, police said on Twitter.
Other COVID-related protests also took place across the Netherlands on Saturday, including in the cities of Amsterdam, Breda, and Katwijk. In Alkmaar and Almelo, fans broke into two soccer games, defying recent lockdown orders, the AP reported.
The protests followed a chaotic night in Rotterdam
The night before, protests broke out in the Dutch city of Rotterdam with hundreds attending. Protestors are alleged to have thrown rocks at officers patrolling the scene in addition to setting off fireworks, according to local authorities. As events spiraled into disarray, authorities issued an emergency order and tried to clear the area with the use of a water cannon, officials said. Some in attendance are also alleged to have set fire to police cars and damaged property.
The protests have come in response to a three-week partial lockdown announced last weekend following a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, said that police “felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves,” according to an Associated Press report. Three protestors were shot and are currently being treated at a hospital, police said in a statement. Authorities also claimed that they fired warning shots initially and that officers were also injured; one had to be hospitalized for a leg injury and another needed to be treated by a paramedic.
Police arrested 51 people on Friday on charges that include public assault, incitement, and violation of the emergency order, and around half of those taken into custody were minors, authorities said.
Friday’s activities prompted criticism from Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus.
“The riots and extreme violence against police officers, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are disgusting to see,” he said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. He added, “Protesting is a great right in our society, but what we saw last night is simply criminal behavior. It has nothing to do with demonstrating.”
Frustration has been building across parts of Europe
Protests in the Netherlands are reminiscent of what’s occurring in numerous other countries across Europe in recent days. In Austria, citizens have been protesting the government’s recent decision to impose a nation-wide lockdown beginning on Monday, as well as plans to make vaccinations compulsory in February.
Thousands joined a demonstration in Vienna on Saturday, with around 35,000 people gathering in the city’s Heroes’ Square, The Guardian reports.
Days earlier, hundreds of protestors had gathered outside the Austrian embassy in France, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, on the island of Guadeloupe, a French territory, rioters have set fires in the streets, shot at police, destroyed property, and looted places of business, prompting French officials to deploy around 50 members of their special forces to help restore order on the island, according to an Al Jazeera report.
In Belgium, police estimated that around 35,000 people gathered for a protest on Sunday near a train station in Brussels. Events turned hectic, however, with protestors throwing objects at officers and police resorting to using water cannons and tear gas on the crowd, Politico reports. Italy and Croatia have also been the site of demonstrations regarding COVID restrictions, and in Melbourne, Australia, heated protests against vaccine mandates are entering their second day.
Officials are warning of a new surge in deaths
Amid the backlash, some health officials are worried that many countries should brace themselves for even more COVID-related deaths. Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, said earlier this month that Europe and central Asia are again “at the epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic. He warned that failure to act could result in half a million deaths by early next year.
“We are at another critical point of pandemic resurgence. Europe is back at the epicentre of the pandemic, where we were 1 year ago,” Kluge warned. “The difference today is that we know more and we can do more. We have more tools and means to mitigate and reduce the damage to our communities and society.”