ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of Greek health care workers, accompanied by ambulances with sirens blaring, marched through central Athens on Thursday to protest regulations mandating coronavirus vaccines for anyone working in their sector.
Under the regulation, which went into effect Wednesday, any health care worker who isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 or hasn’t recovered from the disease within the last six months will be suspended from work without pay.
About 400 protesters rallied outside the health ministry in the center of the Greek capital, before marching to parliament accompanied by about a dozen ambulances. The protesters say they are not against vaccinations, but object to making them compulsory, and say the measure will lead to staff shortages.
The government counters that the measure — which applies to all health care workers in the private and public sector as well as to workers in care homes for the elderly — is necessary to protect the most vulnerable amid a third surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.
The Health Ministry issued a statement Thursday evening saying it was amending the regulation to allow suspensions to be lifted for health workers who get at least one shot from now on, on condition that they complete their vaccinations. Under the current rules, the suspensions would affect any health care worker not vaccinated by Sept. 1.
“The overwhelming majority of health care workers have not only been vaccinated, but fought a battle for the vaccination of the public,” the ministry said. “The law is being implemented for the few unvaccinated who are endangering the lives of people who turn to the health care system.”
More than 5.7 million people are fully vaccinated in Greece, a country of about 11 million. Infections and deaths have been increasing over the summer, with hospitalizations starting to put pressure on the health system. Greece has seen a total of over 590,000 confirmed cases and more than 13,700 deaths.
The government has introduced a series of restrictions on those who aren’t vaccinated, including requiring weekly tests for workers and limiting access to certain entertainment venues to those who are fully vaccinated or recently recovered, as an incentive to boost vaccinations.
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