On Saturday, Greek police used tear gas and water canons to disperse a crowd of thousands protesting mandated coronavirus vaccinations.
Protesters hurled flares at police in Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki, who barred them from reaching the location where Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was scheduled to deliver his annual economic address, according to authorities.
The yearly speech usually draws a large throng of demonstrators, and authorities estimated that more than 15,000 individuals, including labour organisations, took part in protests on subjects ranging from economic policies to COVID-19 vaccines.
Protests against COVID-19 vaccinations began in July after the government announced the mandatory inoculation of health care workers and nursing home staff. Authorities have suggested vaccines could become obligatory for other groups too, such as teachers.
“Yes to vaccines, but not mandatorily,” the federation of public hospital workers, POEDYN, said in a statement.
Greece has suspended nearly 6,000 frontline health care workers from their jobs for missing a Sept. 1 deadline to get at least one vaccine shot. Earlier this month, it offered unvaccinated healthcare workers a second chance to get a shot and allow those who have been suspended to return to work.
POEDYN is worried that a total of 10,000 unvaccinated staff could be suspended, disrupting operations at understaffed hospitals at a time when infections remain high.
Demonstrations against compulsory vaccination also took place in Istanbul on Saturday, where more than 2,000 Turks protested against the government’s new inoculation push.
Around 5.7 million Greeks, or 55% of the population, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 59% have received one dose, according to the latest official figures.
The country recorded 2,197 confirmed new infections on Saturday, and 39 deaths.