The coronavirus, which has killed more than 2.7 million people globally, has been spreading faster recently, with the number of new infections up globally by 14 percent in the last week, according to AFP data.
That has forced governments to impose social distancing and movement restrictions again, even as vaccines are rolled out, with residents across Europe facing fresh and tougher measures.
But populations have grown increasingly weary of the economically painful restrictions, and frustrations spilled over in cities across Europe, with thousands marching in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland.
Demonstrators in the German city of Kassel held up signs including “End the Lockdown” and “Corona Rebels”, as they participated in a protest attended by activists from both the far-left and the far-right, as well as advocates of conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccines.
Authorities used water cannon, batons and pepper spray to disperse the Kassel protests, which a Kassel police spokesman said numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 – one of the largest such rallies so far this year.
In Sweden, police disbanded demonstrations against virus restrictions in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö on Saturday.
The current law in Sweden allows a maximum of eight people to gather in one place. But when the demonstrations began at 1pm in the major Swedish cities, police were quick to point out that they were in breach of the law.
There were also anti-restrictions protests across many cities in Europe, including Düsseldorf, Vienna and the Swiss town of Liestal.
In Austria, about 1,000 protesters gathered to protest against the government’s virus measures near the capital’s central train station. Police reproached several protesters who were not wearing masks and gathering close together, news agency APA reported.
Here are this weekend’s protests across Europe in pictures:
Protesters gather in Malmö, Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT