France at clash with its health workers

The French government faces a stand-off with tens of thousands of health workers and carers on Wednesday as the new rule requiring them to receive a Covid-19 vaccine or face suspension without pay enters into force, news wires reported.

As of today, hospital staff, ambulance drivers, retirement home workers, private doctors, fire service members and people caring for the elderly or infirm in their homes, or 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. Estimates published by the national public health agency a week ago showed that around 12% of hospital staff and around 6% of doctors in private practices had yet to be vaccinated.

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," a 57-year-old nursing assistant, who did not wish to give her surname, told AFP.

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.

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.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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