ATHENS – After saying he couldn't force health care workers to be vaccinated although he had the authority to do so, Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government will make shots against COVID-19 mandatory for them.
That came in a bill sent to Parliament expected to be approved as the government holds a majority of seats there, the measure including a provision to put those who refuse on unpaid leave for as long as the pandemic lasts, said Kathimerini.
Medical, paramedical, nursing, administrative and support staff in hospitals, as well as private, public and municipal care facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities will either have to be vaccinated or face the punishment.
The legislation will take effect as of August 16 for workers at nursing homes and from September 1 for healthcare staff, the Health Ministry planning to fill the jobs of those put on unpaid leave with temporary workers given three-month contracts.
Although they are on the front lines of the fight against the Coronavirus and see patients die in front of them, 10 percent of doctors and 27 percent of nurses have refused to be vaccinated, the paper said.
The move comes with the so-called Eleftheria (Freedom) vaccination scheme stalling and 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.
Health officials said a benchmark of 70 percent of the population must be fully protected to work against COVID-19, especially with the contagious Delta Variant now making up half of cases that have been going over 3,000 daily.
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.
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.
The government now is leaning toward offering vaccines to 12-15 year-olds in a bid to slow a re-surging COVID-19, while adding tougher restrictions.
The government's advisory panel of doctors and scientists is trying to decide whether to recommend the shots for the youngsters even as a hard-core anti-vaxxer segment is holding back the fight against the pandemic.
A number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan and Italy have approved vaccination of that age group who are among the most resistant to the virus.
The government nonetheless believes vaccinating them will help beat back the pandemic while it's not moving to make shots compulsory even for public employees or tourism workers while the virus spreads on islands.
Health officials said Greece can't enter autumn without making the pandemic recede because it will bump into flu season and also further hurt an economy struggling to recover with businesses allowed open, even for the unvaccinated.
Activity will also move indoors then which is riskier and a third booster shot for vaccines requiring two shots could be required, all combining to prevent reaching so-called herd immunity.
Greece became the latest to enact new restrictions, requiring proof of vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 for access to indoor restaurants, cafes, bars and movie theaters. Children can enter with negative tests.
The measure, part of a package of government incentives, had little immediate effect as virtually all public life moves outdoors during Greece's hot, dry summers. Sidewalk cafes and restaurants and open-air movie theaters remain accessible to all.
“At the moment it’s the middle of summer, people prefer being outside, under the trees, and people don’t want to sit indoors,” said Sprios Bairaktaris, owner of a popular Greek taverna in the tourist district of Athens that has both indoor and outdoor areas.
“We adhere to all the measures with total safety. Whatever the doctors or scientists advise,” he said.
Outdoor clubs and music venues in Greece will also be accessible only to the fully vaccinated or recently recovered, with capacity capped at 85 percent and also no standing customers allowed in.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)