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Hundreds of Greek doctors stage 24-hour strike to protest compulsory Covid vaccination and staff shortages. Hundreds of doctors working in state-run hospitals in Greece marched through the capital, Athens to disparage compulsory Covid vaccination and government plans that they believe will only worsen staff shortages.
Around 1,000 protesters took to the streets in Athens on Thursday, marching past parliament toward the Health Ministry as part of their 24-hour strike. Photos and footage uploaded to Twitter show people with banners and flags as they walked through the capital.
Unions representing medical personnel are demonstrating against government proposals which they argue will intensify staffing shortages and result in healthcare professionals working longer hours, infringing upon their rights. As well as protesting shortages, staff in the healthcare system are demanding to be added to the list of professions qualifying for extra hazard pay due to ’heavy and unhealthy work.’
The unions also oppose the suspension of healthcare workers who are unvaccinated against Covid, as it would only exacerbate the lack of personnel, and said that staff should be able to choose whether they want to be vaccinated.
From September 1, it became mandatory for all healthcare professionals in Greece to be vaccinated against Covid or to provide a certificate proving they had recently recovered from the virus. Workers who did not comply ran the risk of indefinite suspension without pay. The policy had previously only covered care home workers.
In late August, around 7,500 people gathered on Athens’ Syntagma Square near the parliament to protest the looming vaccine requirement for healthcare professionals in both the private and public sector. A total of 47 people were arrested by State Operatives.
Authorities claim demonstrators launched ’Molotov cocktails, flares, bottles and other objects at the police forces at the scene,’ prompting agents to fire water cannon and deploy tear gas.’
Some 7,500 protesters flooded the central Syntagma Square, waving Greek flags, chanting slogans, and demanding that the plan to make vaccinations mandatory for all health professionals from September 1 be reversed. Footage shared on social media showed protesters burning flares and throwing bottles at state agents, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. Eyewitnesses claimed that police also used stun grenades in an effort to disperse the gathering.
Some of the protesters brought Orthodox Christian symbols, banners and crucifixes and icons, to the rally. Images shared online show a protester kneeling in front of a truck-mounted water cannon, using an icon of Jesus and Mary as a shield. In another photo, three officers in full riot gear could be seen approaching the protester.
An ambulance driver told the agency that he was flabbergasted by the decision of his hospital to put him on sick leave because he declined a Covid-19 vaccine shot, noting that as a frontline worker he had fought for months against the virus.
‘It’s amazing that I’m put on sick leave because I refuse to be vaccinated when for months, I have helped to contain the epidemic, I have worked in very difficult conditions,’ he said.
The largest industry union, Panhellenic Federation of Employees in Public Hospitals (POEDIN) said earlier this month that it was against mandatory vaccinations, but not against the vaccination per se, urging the government to set up special committees to ’talk face to face with employees and convince them to vaccinate.’
Large crowds of demonstrators were seen in Athens and Thessaloniki on Wednesday, numbered in the thousands according to the Associated Press, some reportedly chanting ’Hands off our kids!’ while others hoisted banners reading ’We say no to vaccine poison.’
The protests come on the heels of several new pandemic measures, one of which effectively closes all indoor public places to the unvaccinated, including bars, restaurants, theatres and other entertainment venues.
The policy takes effect on Friday and will remain at least until the end of August, part of an effort to curb transmission at crowded bars and clubs, which the government has blamed for a recent surge in cases.
Nursing home staff will also be required to be vaccinated, facing suspension without pay if they fail to get the clot-shot. A similar rule came into force in September for workers at all public and private hospitals. Clinics that flout the new restriction could be slapped with a €50,000 fine.
Similar mass demonstrations were also seen in France. A ’health pass’ set to be introduced in August has also stoked outrage, after President Emmanuel Macron previously vowed to issue no vaccine mandates or passports.
The French protests, in contrast to those in Greece, saw clashes with police, while some demonstrators set fires, vandalized buildings and erected makeshift barricades in the streets.
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