Coronavirus-Related Protests are Now a Global Phenomenon
Updated: May 26, 2020
The global COVID-19 crisis appears to have only accelerated the decade of dissent as protesters around the globe rally against restrictive measures meant to stop the spread of the virus.
By Ben Levy
From Germany to the United Kingdom, from Brazil to Poland, the coronavirus pandemic and government responses have spurred protest movements. The most prominent and colorful anti-lockdown protests have taken place in the United States, but these demonstrations have become a global occurrence.
While the widespread protests do not seem to be necessarily connected, they are likely the result of people feeling their freedoms restricted and quality of life diminished as an effect of the coronavirus and measures to stop its spread. Even as governments around the world begin to slowly loosen lockdown restrictions and restart stalled economies, the number of protesters demonstrating does not seem to be diminishing.
Social media has contributed to the organization, proliferation and growth of protests. While others online have taken to calling these protesters ‘covidiots,’ deriding their deliberate disregard for the public health measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. German media has even suggested that Russia could be behind a misinformation campaign that is spurring on protesters as a way of undermining national governments.
Coronavirus-related protests worldwide
Germany has seen thousands of people across the country gather weekly to protest against lockdown restrictions. Ironically, the country’s reported success in culling the spread of the virus has added fire to protestors’ demands to reopen the economy at a faster pace.
In Spain, thousands of far-right supporters blocked the streets of Madrid in a vehicle rally where organizers urged protesters to stay in their cars to comply with social distancing restrictions while voicing their contempt with the lockdown measures.
Warsaw police have been accused of being overly aggressive in their response to protests. There have been reports of police using tear gas and physically bullying demonstrators. City officials have claimed that a recent large protest was illegal because it had not been previously approved.
In the United Kingdom, demonstrators call the government actions obstructive to individual freedom and unnecessarily damaging to the economy.
The country had one of the slowest response times to the spread of the virus in Europe, originally following the theory that allowing the virus to spread unrestricted would allow the population to build ‘herd’ immunity to fight the disease in the long-term without sacrificing the country’s economy.
After researchers and medical professionals discredited this approach and the country experienced an overwhelming spike in cases, the UK swiftly enacted restrictions on movement and the operation of businesses. The British government implemented a strict lockdown on March 23. But this delay, in addition to a health care system poorly equipped to handle a pandemic, has led to disaster for the island country.
The UK currently ranks fourth in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, worldwide. A total of over 36,700 people have died from Covid-19 and over 260,000 cases have been recorded in the country. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent time in the intensive care unit of St Thomas' Hospital in London fighting the coronavirus as a patient.
Exposing underlying political fault lines
The UK government’s actions have exposed political fault lines, turning the public response into fodder for ideological wildfires that have exploded onto the streets. The most vocal groups have won airtime and coverage, seeking to catapult their cause onto the national stage and accelerate political momentum in their favor. Extremist groups have taken advantage of the chaos to further their own agenda.
Many protesters have flouted the social distancing regulations, gathering in large crowds and neglecting to wear face masks or other recommended protective gear. Nineteen people were arrested over the weekend, including former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn’s brother, Piers Corbyn, for violating coronavirus guidelines at a protest in London’s Hyde Park that drew around 50 people. The Metropolitan Police said the arrests came after repeated requests for the group to disperse were deliberately ignored.
Anti-vaxxers have been a prominent group behind the UK coronavirus protests, pushing their agenda when tensions are heightened, and the national conversation has turned to disease response and prevention and vaccines. Protestors at Hyde Park waved signs with slogans such as “anti-vax deserves a voice” and “freedom over fear.”
Those touting a conspiracy theory about the building of 5G communications networks and their connection to the spread of the coronavirus have also been an outspoken presence at many demonstrations. Across the United Kingdom, nearly 80 towers have been attacked or sabotaged by activists misguided attempts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight loosening of the restrictions, allowing members of different households to meet for the first time. The slow relaxation is intended to prevent a second peak of illness leading to further deaths and damage to the economy. However, Johnson has come under fire in recent days for standing behind top government advisor, Dominic Cummings, who allegedly broke lockdown rules by traveling across the country while displaying symptoms of the virus.