People opposed to restrictions to curb the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) formed a human chain on the border between Germany and Switzerland, on Saturday.
For about 30 minutes, the demonstrators massed on the banks of Lake Constance, which borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with the police maintaining a heavy presence to prevent any outbreak of violence.
Joined together with scarves, bits of cloth or rope, the protesters lined up on both sides of the Swisss-German border, which runs through a park in the city of Konstanz, according to an AFP journalist on the scene.
Police reported that the situation was “very calm,” and said there were about 1,000 participants in the Konstanz sector.
The organisers had initially expected 15,000 persons and had planned to go around the lake into Austria. However, according to the N-TV television channel, that seemed “very, very difficult” to achieve.
The demonstration was organised by the ‘Free thinkers,’ a motley collection of groups opposed to restrictions linked to Covid-19 that held two demonstrations in Berlin in the summer, in which tens of thousands of people participated.
17 processions or rallies were supposed to be organised on Saturday in Konstanz, but in the early afternoon local police said some rallies had not been held, while others had fewer participants than planned, most likely because it had rained in the morning.
Twelve rallies were also announced for Sunday in the Konstanz city centre. City Hall stressed that most of these were not organised by the ‘anti-mask’ demonstrators, but by groups who wish to express solidarity in this time of the global epidemic. The police said they planned a heavy deployment on Sunday to pre-empt any outbreaks of violence.
The rallies come amid a surge in new infections in Germany, which had largely succeeded in containing the spread of Covid-19. On Saturday, the number of new infections in 24 hours topped the 2,500 mark.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was very worried by the surge. On Tuesday, she announced new restrictions, particularly on private parties, and immediate fines for violators of certain rules.
The municipality of Konstanz has banned demonstrators from brandishing distinctive signs of the former Nazi regime or “flags of the Reich,” as they had done in Berlin. It has also mandated the wearing of face masks when social distancing measures cannot be respected.
At the last rally, in late August, hundreds of demonstrators had stormed security barriers and climbed onto the steps of the Reichstag, headquarters of the German parliament, marking a new stage in the radicalisation of the movement.
The protests draw a motley crowd of anti-vaccination activists, conspiracy theorists and citizens genuinely worried about the restrictions linked to Covid-19, but they have also, increasingly, been attracting extreme right sympathisers, according to the authorities.