Greek police fire tear gas as 7,000 protest coronavirus vaccine rules

A protester stands in front of a police vehicle during clashes after an anti-vaxxer rally in Athens, Greece, on Aug 29, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ATHENS (AFP) - Around 7,000 people protested in Athens on Sunday (Aug 29) against a new rule obliging health workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19, said police who fired teargas to quell violence among the demonstrators.

The rule change, which came into effect on Wednesday requires that all personnel working in hospitals be vaccinated.

The demonstrators waved Greek flags and brandished placards declaring: "We are not against vaccines, but against fascism" and "Long live democracy".

"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", said Christos Bakakios, an ambulance driver who joined the protest.

A nurse, who gave her name as Lina, said: "The Greek health system will collapse if they put all the caregivers who refuse to be vaccinated on furlough." "The hospitals are already overcrowded. That would make no sense," she added.

Sporadic violence broke out in the evening. One group of demonstrators threw stones and bottles at the police who responded with tear gas, according to an AFP videographer on the spot.

Greece's government on Tuesday announced an array of new restrictions and the end, next month, of free testing for those who remain unjabbed against Covid-19 in an effort to boost vaccination rates.

The government took the measures in part to encourage people to get vaccinated, as the contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 takes hold.

At the moment 99 per cent of seriously-ill coronavirus patients, those intubated in hospital, have not been vaccinated.

Retirement home workers have been obliged to get vaccinated since mid-August.

Ten employees at a home in Volos, in the centre of the country, were recently suspended from work.

More than 5.7 million of Greece's 10.7 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, but the spread of the Delta variant continues to cause concern.

On Sunday Greece registered around 1,500 new Covid-19 cases.

Over 13,600 people have died of the disease in the country since the pandemic began.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.