At the end of last year, there were large public demonstrations opposing severe restrictions on civil liberties, including in Germany1 2 and Great Britain.3 In Denmark, there was a public protest against proposed legislation that would mandate COVID-19 vaccination.4 There is increasing civil unrest in many countries after a year of experiencing the crippling side effects of government public health policies that have restricted autonomy and freedom of assembly5 6 and caused mass unemployment and destruction of small businesses,7 8 9steep increases in substance abuse, depression and suicide,10 11 12 13 and inadequate treatment for other diseases like cancer.14 15
Since the beginning of 2021,16 demonstrations calling for an end to COVID lockdowns and voluntary vaccination have spanned the globe from Canada17 to the Netherlands18 and Lebanon.19 February and March 2021 saw anti-lockdown protests in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Serbia, Poland20 and other countries.
Netherlands: ‘Love, Freedom, Stop Dictatorship’
In January 2021, the government of Netherlands instituted strict lockdown rules that banned gatherings of more than two people, shut bars and restaurants and imposed a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew, the first since the Nazi’s issued orders to Dutch citizens to “stay at home” during World War II. People who break the curfew face a 95 Euro ($115) fine. Schools and “non essential” shops have been closed since December 2020.21
On Jan. 24, 2021, the police used water cannons and dogs to disperse hundreds of protesters opposed to curfews. Tear gas was fired on a crowd of several hundred protesters in Eindhoven, where there were reports of looting and at least 30 arrests and a COVID testing center was burned in the city of Urk.22 In early March, a test center in another city near Amsterdam was the scene of a pipe bomb explosion.23
On Mar. 14, 2021, Dutch riot police broke up a crowd of several thousand anti-lockdown protesters gathered at The Hague. Water cannon, batons and dogs were used by police after protesters violated social distancing rules and disregarded warnings to disperse. Holding yellow umbrellas and chanting, “love, freedom, stop dictatorship,” about 20 people reportedly were detained by police and two demonstrators were injured.24
Ireland: ‘Let Ireland Live’
On Feb. 17, 2021, hundreds of people gathered in Dublin carrying signs like “End the Lockdown” and “Let Ireland Live’ and clashed with police, resulting in 23 arrests. The demonstration was held after the government extended the country’s third lockdown until April, which meant that all non-essential businesses, restaurants, pubs and gyms would remain shut, with the government recommending people stay at home and placing a three-mile travel limit on movements.25
On St. Patrick’s Day and on Mar. 20, 2021, the Irish police (Gardai) arrested a number of demonstrators for violating pandemic public health restrictions on public gatherings.26 The majority were not wearing face masks and some carried banners opposing mandatory COVID vaccinations.
Denmark: 1200 Rally Against Lockdown Restrictions
On Feb. 28, 2021, eight demonstrators were arrested in Copenhagen, Denmark in front of the Town Hall during a mostly peaceful anti-lockdown rally attended by a crowd of about 1200 people. Organized by “Men in Black,” it was the first protest since the government announced the extension of many COVID health restrictions to Apr. 4, which includes the closure of bars, restaurants and most secondary schools and universities. Danish police said the eight demonstrators were arrested for rowdy behavior and using fireworks during the protest.2
Sweden: First Protest Opposing New Public Health Rules
Unlike most other European countries, Sweden did not lockdown at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and there were few social distancing restrictions through most of 2020.28 However, when COVID cases began to rise in later in the year, the government instituted stricter rules.
On Mar. 6, 2021, Swedish police broke up a rally of hundreds of people who had assembled in Stockholm to demonstrate against COVID public health restrictions.29 The rally, which was the first to protest the country’s new public health laws restricting movement, was organized by Freedom Sweden, a citizen group that maintains the new laws violate human freedom.
Switzerland: Protest Against “Dictatorial Powers”
On Mar. 6, 2021, 4,000 Swiss citizens walked peacefully in the town of Chur, Switzerland carrying banners in a protest against use of “dictatorial powers” by the government to implement restrictive COVID public health policies that include the continued closure of bars and restaurants. In Zurich, police reportedly dispersed several public gatherings that violated the 15 person gathering limit outside (five people limit inside buildings).30