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Greece Will Require COVID-19 Vaccinations for Health Care Workers

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People wearing face masks, wait in queues outside Peristeri vaccination center in Athens, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

ATHENS – A bill mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for health sector workers in Greece in the front line of fighting the pandemic – some 10 percent have refused – was sent to the Parliament controlled by the New Democracy government.

That insures it will pass as part of a move to accelerate the stalling Eleftheria (Freedom) vaccination scheme that has seen only about half the country's population of some 10.7 million people fully protected with two shots of most doses, apart from the single-shot US-made Johnson & Johnson version.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been reluctant to make vaccinations mandatory, even for tourism workers as the Coronavirus is spreading on islands where they are employed.

Tourists, Greeks and visitors can visit the islands only if they are vaccinated, have a negative PCR test or proof they have recovered from the Coronavirus but widespread defiance of what's left of measures from a lenient lockdown have seen the virus spreading on islands that were supposed to be safe oases.

The fast-track legislation was due to be voted on in a July 22 session where it's expected to pass as even the major opposition SYRIZA is partially supporting vaccinations despite resistance in its ranks.

But party leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras said the unvaccinated should have the same privileges as the vaccinated in being able to be admitted to restaurants, concerts, theaters and other public gathering places.

According to Travel Awaits, the new policy also dictates that only seated customers will be allowed in restaurants and bars to prevent dancing in close proximity or hanging around bars which are danger areas for the virus.

The Associated Press reported  that even attendees at Greece’s outdoor clubs and music venues must be fully vaccinated or recently recovered, capacities are capped at 85 percent and everyone must be seated.

Health officials will be monitoring indoor venues to verify compliance and businesses face some hefty penalties if they fail to uphold regulations, said Travel Pulse, with a hotel owner on the western island of Zakynthos arrested for holding a giant party there.

Police said he was detainned during an inspection at his hotel where officers also found 384 canisters of laughing gas (nitrous oxide), three hand-held canisters and a number of balloons at his possession, said Kathimerini.

He was fined 2,000 euros ($2357.53) – which could be less than he would make  – and the facility closed for seven days although he faced a prosecutor later.

The government, however, is going back and forth between tough and lenient, saying that restrictions on the wild party island of Mykonos where COVID-19 was spreading would be lifted July 26, including a 1-6 a.m. curfew, after pressure from business owners.

Music had been disallowed there in a bid to prevent parties on the island known for hedonism and defiance, with scenes there of massive crowds ignoring safe social distances and not wearing masks.

A first offense warrants a one-week closure, plus a fine of from 200-500 euros ($235.75-$589.38) depending upon the size of the venue. For a second offense, penalties increase to 10,000 euros ($11,787.65) and being temporarily closed while a third offense would see loss of an operating license for 60 days.

The measure would go into effect after Aug. 16 if approved by Parliament as expected, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, and includes workers at elderly care centers and nursing homes which had been particularly hard hit.

The same decision will affect employees in care units for people with special needs, along with all staff at healthcare facilities - beginning as of Sept. 1. Workers there, including in the private sector, must show employers proof of vaccination.

Those in the public sector who refuse won't be fired but could be suspended without pay until they are vaccinated, tantamount to being let go, rare in Greece where it's almost impossible to discipline public employees for almost any reason because their jobs are tenured and guarded ferociously by unions.

Seven firefighters assigned to an elite emergency response unit on Crete were the first to face repercussions for refusing to be vaccinated, as the will be transferred to other duties, the paper also said.

The chief of Greece's fire brigade in June ordered members of the unit, known by its acronym of EMAK, to get the vaccination because their job requires them to respond to emergencies, including in other countries.