10 police hurt as violence spreads on French Caribbean islands

Ten police officers were injured and several journalists shot at on the French Caribbean island of Martinique as protests sparked by Covid-19 vaccine measures spread.

Four police officers in riot gear approach a burning barricade in single file in Fort-de-France, Martinique
Photo: Loic Venance / AFP

Fresh violence was reported on the island despite a night-time curfew, following more than a week of unrest on the nearby French island of Guadeloupe.

Five police officers were injured by gunfire on Martinique and five more by objects thrown at them during operations, according to police figures sent to AFP.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal called the unrest “totally unacceptable” and promised “firmness” in dealing with the rioters.

Four journalists, including an AFP photographer, were shot at by men on a motorbike late on Thursday as they worked in the main Martinique town of Fort-de-France. None was injured.

The protests on Guadeloupe were started by hardline opponents of compulsory vaccination for health workers and fire fighters on the island – a measure already implemented in mainland France.

The protests, which saw barricades set up on roads, have since morphed into a larger movement to express frustration at alleged neglect of the islands by Paris.

The territories are popular with tourists, but poverty levels and unemployment for locals are far higher than in metropolitan France, leading to long-standing grievances.

Vaccination rates in the territories also trail those on the mainland, with less than half the population jabbed against Covid on Guadeloupe.

A strict night curfew was announced for Martinique on Thursday, mirroring a similar measure in place in Guadeloupe since November 19th.

Hundreds of police reinforcements have also been sent to the islands.

No government minister has visited the region since the protests began, but Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu will travel “shortly”, an aide told AFP. The trip “cannot be organised under pressure and has to be part of an initiative to make clear and shared commitments”, the aide added on condition of anonymity.

The leaders of the protest movement on Guadeloupe have asked for obligatory vaccinations to be dropped on the island, something ruled out by the French government.

The unrest comes at a sensitive moment in France’s governance of its overseas territories, ahead of a third and final independence referendum in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.