Coronavirus News Asia

Alarm over Germany’s ‘corona demos’

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A growing wave of demonstrations in Germany by conspiracy theorists, extremists and anti-vaxxers has alarmed even Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Initially starting as a handful of protesters decrying tough restrictions on public life to halt transmission of the coronavirus, the protests have swelled in recent weeks to gatherings of thousands in major German cities.

Thousands are set to mass again in Stuttgart, Munich and Berlin on Saturday, with police out in force after some protests turned violent.

The growing demonstrations have sparked comparison to the anti-Muslim Pegida marches at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, raising questions over whether the strong support that Merkel is currently enjoying due to her handling of the virus crisis could evaporate.

Just as it won popularity by fanning anti-migrant sentiment five years back, the far-right AfD party is now openly encouraging protesters and repositioning itself as an anti-lockdown party.

A recent poll commissioned by the Spiegel news magazine found that almost one in four Germans surveyed voiced “understanding” for the demonstrations.

The development has shocked the political establishment, with Merkel reportedly telling top brass of her centre-right CDU party of the “worrying” trend that may bear some hallmarks of Russia’s disinformation campaigns.

‘Vilification’

Germany in March took unprecedented measures to shut down public life. 

While a huge majority of Germans back the action, giving Merkel’s government a big boost in approval ratings, dissent is fomenting, particularly online where YouTube videos championing conspiracy theories or quack medical advice are attracting tens of thousands of views. 

Seeking to counter absurd claims, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that although he wasn’t a medical practitioner, he could safely suggest that the “uncomfortable and cumbersome face mask is more to be recommended than a tin-foil hat.”

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