France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health staff

© JEFF PACHOUD Nurses and doctors take care of a patient infected with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit of Lyon-Sud hospital in Pierre-Benite, on September 8. AFP

Hospitals, care homes and health centres have suspended about 3,000 workers across France for failing to comply with mandatory Covid vaccination, the government said on Thursday.

Countries around Europe are considering how far to go to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy is set to announce later on Thursday that proof of vaccination or a negative test will be compulsory for all workers, going further than any other country in the region.

The Netherlands plans a similar step – but only for entry to bars or clubs.

Britain, meanwhile, says it will probably require front-line health and social care workers in England to be vaccinated before winter.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s decisions in mid-July to introduce a health pass for entry to indoor venues including restaurants, gyms and museums, and to make the shots mandatory for health workers, has greatly increased vaccination numbers.

The mandate for workers in hospitals and care homes took effect on Wednesday, and it was quick to be enforced.

Almost 450 health workers out of 7,500 were suspended in one hospital in the city of Nice, in southern France, daily newspaper Nice Matin reported.

But the government shrugged off the mandate’s effects.

“It hasn’t been chaos, far from it,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told French RTL radio. He said there were 27 million workers in the sector.

Mr Veran said there had been a few cases where it affected care, such as the use of an MRI scanner being briefly interrupted, but most suspended staff were in support roles, limiting the effect.

“Most of the suspensions are only temporary,” he said. “Many have decided to get vaccinated as they see that the vaccination mandate is a reality.”

But unions warn of probable disruptions to care and having just a few absent from a team is enough to spark a crisis, Emmanuel Chignon, a care home manager in Bordeaux, told Reuters this week.

Mr Chignon said it was very difficult to hire staff in the sector.

“If we can’t replace the carers who leave the work will fall on the others, and I fear an unvirtuous circle, with tiredness, exhaustion and an increase in absenteeism,” he said.

In Italy, where vaccination for health workers was made mandatory at the end of March, some have been suspended, but in numbers nowhere near those of France.

As of September 16, about 728 doctors in all of Italy had been suspended for failing to be vaccinated, the Italian doctors’ federation said.

Italy is set to go much further and announce on Thursday that a “Green pass”, showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus, will be mandatory for all public and private sector workers.

Failure to have a pass will result in workers being suspended and losing their pay.

In the Netherlands, opinion polls show most of the public favour mandatory vaccination for health workers.

The workers are mostly opposed to it and the government has said it will not introduce such measures.

But a pass showing proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test result will be required there from September 25 for entry to bars, restaurants, clubs or cultural events.

Although polls have shown most of the Dutch support the measure, the pass is strongly opposed by about 30 per cent of the population who have so far refused to be vaccinated.

Critics say the measure is meant to force people to get their shots.

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