Schools closed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on Monday and the French president warned of a “very explosive” situation in the territory, after protests against COVID-19 rules and vaccines turned into days of unrest and looting.
France’s central government sent special police forces to try to restore order in the former colony, as emergency workers said they could not reach neighborhoods barricaded by angry crowds.
The prefect of Guadalupe said in a statement that police arrested 11 people during the night from Sunday to Monday. He said that some patients who need kidney dialysis treatment cannot access a hospital and “are now in danger.”
“We have several patients” in the blocked area of La Boucan, tweeted Patrick Portecop, head of the regional emergency service. “We are powerless.”
Guadalupe’s education department ordered the closure of schools for all ages on Monday “taking the situation into account” and asked parents to leave their children at home.
Demonstrations in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department of about 400,000 people, erupted over France’s mandatory vaccinations for health workers and the COVID-19 health pass, required to enter restaurants and many other places in France. When they degenerated into riots, an 80-year-old woman was hit by a bullet while on her balcony and at least two other people were injured, according to local authorities.
While mainland France has seen similar protests, protesters in Guadeloupe are also angered by deep-rooted economic, social and racial inequality, and have expanded their demands in recent days to include a general wage increase, higher unemployment benefits and the hiring more teachers.
Guadeloupe’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is 33%, compared to 75% nationwide, which authorities attribute to false information about vaccines shared online. There is also mistrust of central authorities stemming from past health scandals.
Stupefaction, pain, resignation, indifference: the mood in Pointe-a-Pitre changes from one street to another. Police are clearing the main thoroughfares of roadblocks that have hampered movement for days. Smoke comes from piles of trash and burning electrical equipment. Nails, broken glass and tree trunks litter the streets as a woman rummages through the charred remains of her home.
Outside the main hospital, striking workers have set up a camp against mandatory vaccinations for health workers and supporters bring food.
The president of Guadeloupe, Ary Chalus, condemned the looting: “We cannot destroy what we build together.” But he noted that the riots are “more than mandatory vaccination” and regretted on regional television that the central government has not responded to requests for financial support “as quickly as they sent the police” to quell the riots.
“There is a situation that is very explosive, there is a very local context. There are tensions that we know are historical, ”French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday.
He urged efforts to convince people “that the vaccine is the best protection, and not to give in to lies or manipulation. … Public order must be maintained. Guadalupe has the right to calm ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism