Thousands took part in protests against mandatory vaccination in Greece on Sunday, the largest being held in Athens and Thessaloniki.
In the Greek capital, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a group of demonstrators who threw flares and other objects at Syntagma Square opposite the Parliament building.
Many demonstrators were waving Greek flags, chanting slogans and demanding the plan to make vaccinations mandatory for all health professionals starting September 1 be reversed.
Dozens of people have been detained, as tensions were running high. This was the third major demonstration against compulsory vaccination in Athens in the last couple of months.
First night in Athens. Dinner on the balcony with a view — of both the Parthenon and a wild demonstration. This is my first experience with tear gas. I can confirm it burns bad. pic.twitter.com/2Wn0l5Iwsj
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) August 29, 2021
Footage shared on social media showed protesters burning flares and throwing bottles at the officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
ΣΥΝΤΑΓΜΑ ΠΡΙΝ ΛΙΓΟ 29.8.2021
Ένας σωστός "φιλήσυχος" αντιεμβολιαστής κουβαλά την ελληνική σημαία στον ώμο,ΤΗΝ ΠΡΟΣΒΑΛΕΙ. Τον σταυρό στο ένα χέρι, τον ΒΕΒΗΛΩΝΕΙ. Και ενα καπνογόνο,πυρσό ή μολότοφ στο άλλο χέρι. Που να του ΚΟΠΕΙ απ΄τη ρίζα. pic.twitter.com/BdXfjhrIlR
— Nikos Michael (@NikosMichael6) August 29, 2021
Some of the protesters brought Orthodox Christian paraphernalia, such as crosses and icons, to the rally. Images shared online show a protester kneeling in front of a truck-mounted water cannon, using an icon of Jesus and Mary as a shield.
— fotiatora.gr (@fotiatoragr) August 29, 2021
— The Notabook (@TNotabook) August 29, 2021
Vaccination obligatory for health workers
Sunday’s rally took place ahead of the September 1 deadline, after which vaccinations will become obligatory for all health professionals both in private and public sectors. Those who refuse to be vaccinated and fail to produce a certificate that they have recently recovered from Covid-19 can be suspended indefinitely.
Until now the policy has been in effect only for care home workers, who have been obliged to get a Covid-19 shot since August 16. The restrictions have sparked a backlash from unionized health workers.
The largest industry union, Panhellenic Federation of Employees in Public Hospitals (POEDIN) said earlier this month that it was against mandatory vaccinations, but not against the vaccination per se, urging the government to set up special committees to “talk face to face with employees and convince them to vaccinate.”
According to the latest data, 55 percent of Greek adults have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In the United States 51 percent have been fully vaccinated, in Germany 60 percent and in the UK 62 percent. The European Union average is 57 percent.
Greece’s government defends mandatory vaccination for some
In July, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended compulsory vaccination for some groups in the country by referencing Article 25 of the Greek constitution.
Mitsotakis highlighted that the Delta variant of the virus, which is much more transmissible than the original virus, means that it is more important than ever before for all Greeks who can get vaccinated to do so.
“The state has the right to demand the all citizens to pay their debt of social and national solidarity back,” noted Mitsotakis, referring to Article 25, Paragraph 4 of the Constitution. He then claimed that this part of Greek law is more relevant today than ever.
“This is what we demand from our fellow citizens. The debt of social and national solidarity. The battle of our generation is tackling the pandemic. We will beat it.
“But we must win it by taking all the responsibility of their citizens towards themselves, their families and society as a whole,” Mitsotakis said, arguing that people have a moral duty to become vaccinated.