PARIS (Reuters) – France has postponed implementing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health workers in Martinique and Guadeloupe after the measure spurred widespread protests on the French territories in which police officers were injured and journalists attacked.
The two Caribbean islands have been hit by unrest over the last week after the French government imposed tougher measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Compulsory vaccinations for health workers, a measure already introduced on the French mainland, had fuelled resentment among the islands’ majority Black population.
The French health ministry said in a statement after a crisis government meeting on Friday that it had decided to postpone to Dec. 31 “finalising the implementation of the vaccine mandate” in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
It had put those who refused inoculation on unpaid leave but now says it will give those suspended more time for individual “dialogue” with their managers while still getting paid.
Some on the islands have called the mandate a throwback to France’s slavery era, insisting that they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment.
The French government meeting came as the riots in Martinique were still ongoing, a source close to the French overseas minister said.
“Last night was clearly more intense than the nights before,” a local spokesman for the French state told Reuters on Friday.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said authorities in Martinique and Guadeloupe had made 10 arrests after shots were fired on Thursday night, injuring several people.
Journalists from French television, news and photo agencies were attacked on Thursday night, media group Altice said in a statement, confirming earlier remarks by the minister. One police officer was seriously injured and needed surgery, local authorities said.
Prosecutors said masked protesters had also tried to set fire to the gate of the official residence of the prefect, the most senior representative of the French central state there, but no significant damage had been caused.
In Guadeloupe, where protests began last week, there is a historic mistrust of the government’s handling of health crises after many people were systematically exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations in the 1970s.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Tassilio Hummel; editing by John Stonestreet, Mark Porter and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)