Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, including a large contingent of far-right groups and members identifying with the US-based right-wing conspiracy movement QAnon. And in London, a large crowd of protesters took to the streets, calling for the end of what they called “COVID hoax” measures.
Few of the demonstrators wore masks or followed social distancing guidelines as they waved flags and marched towards the Brandenburg Gate for a final rally, where about 20,000 people from Germany and other European countries were expected to gather.
Some held up placards showing German lawmakers with the word “guilty” underneath, while others waved imperialist flags usually associated with far-right group “Reichsbuerger,” or displayed tributes to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
“Mr Trump, please don’t forget the German patriots,” read one banner.
Just hours into the demonstration, Berlin police tweeted that they were dispersing the marchers.
“Unfortunately, we have no other option: We approached the leader of the demonstration and informed him that his meeting would be dissolved by the police,” police said on Twitter.
“All previous measures have not led to compliance with the requirements,” police added, pointing to “non-compliance with the distance regulations according to the Infection Protection Act, despite constant requests by the meeting management & our colleagues.”
About 3,000 police officers were deployed to monitor the march after concerns about whether social distancing rules would be followed. “We are getting a lot of support from other states and the federal police. Please maintain distance and stay safe,” the police tweeted.
Earlier this week, Berlin’s state government announced that it would prohibit the demonstration from taking place, following fears over potential violations of the government’s coronavirus regulations.
But the ban was lifted on Friday following an urgent ruling by the Berlin Administrative Court on Friday.
“The assembly against the coronavirus policy of the federal and state governments planned for August 29, 2020 by the initiative Lateral Thinking 711 can take place after an urgent ruling,” the court said in a statement.
“The organizers must comply with conditions,” the statement added.
Chancellor Angela Merkel initially responded to the coronavirus with swift and strict lockdown measures and widespread testing, and it appeared to have worked, with Germany’s death toll remaining low.
But after a recent rise in infections as measures were eased, tougher restrictions were introduced on Friday, including new travel regulations.
Merkel warned that the coronavirus pandemic was “likely to get more difficult in the coming months,” cautioning that society “is never going to be the same” until a successful vaccine is developed.
Protests in London
Meanwhile on Saturday, a large crowd of protesters gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against the UK’s government’s coronavirus measures, with video and still photos of the event indicating the attendance was in the thousands.
Photos circulating on social media showed protesters holding up banners with slogans including “COVID hoax,” “no mandatory vaccines,” and “no lockdowns” as they climbed the landmark Nelson’s Column challenging the current social distancing rules.
The “Unite for Freedom” protest called for an end to mandatory measures such as lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and track and trace systems, described by the organizers as a “violation of people’s rights and freedoms.”
Several protesters also held up signs for QAnon. One man was photographed unfurling the flag of the British Union of Fascists, an anti-Semitic group formed in the early 1930s.
The UK continues to see a rise in coronavirus infection rates, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling British media Saturday that further nationwide restrictions cannot be ruled out.
Britain reported 1,108 new cases on Saturday bringing the total number of cases across the country to 332,752. A total of 41,498 people have reportedly died from coronavirus in the UK.
CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, Emma Reynolds, Isabel Tejera, Anastasia Graham-Yooll and Schams Elwazer contributed to this report.