Macron warns of “explosive” situation with unrest in Guadeloupe over vaccination demands

This week, the French government responded urgently to protests over restrictions over covid-19 in two of its overseas departments in the Caribbean in what President Emmanuel Macron called an “explosive” situation.

After a week of sometimes violent protests in Guadeloupe, the French government deployed special police forces over the weekend to the territory, home to some 400,000 people, and mediation efforts were expected to begin Tuesday.

There were also growing fears of a general strike in neighboring Martinique, which was prompted, at least in part, by recent restrictions on the coronavirus, but also rooted in a number of other grievances.

In both overseas departments, the French government has imposed rules similar to those that have been in place for months in mainland France, including mandatory vaccinations for firefighters and health workers, as well as a health pass that restricts access to event venues.

These rules sparked weekly protests in mainland France during the summer, which have now subsided. The French pass is considered a key reason for the significant increase in vaccination rates in the country since then.

But the approach may be reaching its limit in some of the country’s overseas regions.

Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday that protesters in Martinique shot at police and firefighters.

Authorities in Guadeloupe have arrested more than three dozen rioters in the past week. There have been numerous reports of looting and street barricades, and the regional prosecutor has described the situation as “quasi-insurgent.”

French Prime Minister Jean Castex was scheduled to meet personally with a delegation from Guadeloupe on Monday night to discuss ways out of the crisis. But the meeting had to be postponed online after Castex’s 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a virus. Later that evening, Castex himself tested positive.

The number of cases in France has increased by about 80 percent in the past seven days, although it is still at a lower level than in the countries most affected by the virus in Europe.

The French government is confident that thanks to a 70 percent vaccination rate with a second dose of vaccine, the country is in a better position than many others to cope with the new wave of the virus. In some overseas territories, however, vaccination rates are much lower, for example, in Guadeloupe less than 50 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose. A large proportion of medical personnel remain unvaccinated, risking suspension from work.

Amid misinformation campaigns, some residents seem to have become particularly skeptical of mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which regulators have found to be safe and effective.

In an attempt to ease tensions, the French government is exploring ways to provide Guadeloupe with more non-mRNA vaccines, France’s public television channel reported.

Macron earlier called on officials to redouble their efforts to allay concerns. “We must explain, explain, explain and convince, convince, convince,” he said Monday.

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