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  15 Sep 2021, 09:46
Update : 15 Sep 2021, 11:10

France gets tough on vaccine rule for health workers

  PARIS, Sept 15, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The French government faces a stand-off
with tens of thousands of health workers and carers Wednesday over a new rule
requiring them to receive a Covid-19 vaccine or face suspension without pay.

  Starting Wednesday, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, retirement home
workers, private doctors, fire service members and people caring for the
elderly or infirm in their homes -- some 2.7 million people in total -- must
be able to prove they have had at least one shot of a vaccine.

  President Emmanuel Macron issued the ultimatum two months ago, but tens of
thousands of carers remain unvaccinated.

  One of France's biggest public sector unions, the hardline CGT, has warned
of a "health catastrophe" if the government suspends large numbers of health
workers and bars private-sector doctors from practising.

  Defiant health workers have joined opponents of a new coronavirus "health
pass" required for entry to restaurants, cafes and museums at weekly protests
held across France in the past two months.

  On Tuesday, a few hundred people attended a union-led demonstration outside
the health ministry in Paris.

  "Whether we're vaccinated or not, we're against making it compulsory,"
Valerie, a 57-year-old nursing assistant, who did not wish to give her
surname, told AFP.

  - Operations cancelled -

  The BFM news channel reported Tuesday that a hospital in the southern city
of Montelimar had begun cancelling dozens of operations scheduled for next
week due to a shortage of vaccinated anaesthetists.

  "Four theatres will be unable to function as normal," Henri Osman, the
director of the hospital's medical commission told the network.

  Estimates published by the national public health agency a week ago showed
that around 12 percent of hospital staff and around six percent of doctors in
private practices had yet to be vaccinated.

  The national federation of ambulance workers FNMS in late August estimated
that 13 percent of its members were still resisting coronavirus shots.

  Amel Benothman, a 41-year-old nurse and father-of-three working at a
psychiatric hospital in the northern city of Lille told AFP he was "too
worried" about the side-effects of the vaccine to get immunised even if it
meant losing his job.

  "I've already had a mild case of Covid and consider that the risks outweigh
the benefits," he said during a demonstration in Lille on Saturday.

  France is not the first country to take steps to force people working with
the vulnerable to get vaccinated.

  US President Joe Biden last week made vaccines mandatory for millions of
federal employees and contractors as well as businesses with over 100
employees.

  In Europe, Italy made the vaccine compulsory for health workers in late May
and plans to expand the measure to retirement home staff in October, whereas
Greece has already introduced it to both categories of carers.

  Despite appeals by French unions for leniency, the government has vowed to
see the policy through.

  "We will not back down," Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last month.

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