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French health workers not vaccinated face suspension as deadline passes

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By Euronews with AFP
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Nurses care for a patient inside an operating room now used for unconscious COVID-19 patients at Bichat Hospital, AP-HP, in Paris, April 22, 2021.
Nurses care for a patient inside an operating room now used for unconscious COVID-19 patients at Bichat Hospital, AP-HP, in Paris, April 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  Lewis Joly/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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French healthcare and emergency workers faced suspension from Wednesday if they were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

President Emmanuel Macron announced in a speech earlier this summer that medical professionals and those working with vulnerable people -- including nursing homes' non-medical staff -- must get the jab.

He gave them until September 15 to get protected. The demand affects 2.7 people. Although figures suggest most of those concerned by the measures are fully inoculated, it's estimated that many are at risk of sanctions.

Without at least a first injection, a valid counter-argument or a recent infection, the unvaccinated will "no longer be able to perform their activity", according to a new law passed in August.

According to France's main health authority, by 12 September 89,3% of care workers in homes for the elderly had received at least one jab. A spokeswoman for private care homes estimated their could be "perhaps 1% to 2% of suspensions", with around 3,000 contracts terminated in the next few days.

Frédéric Valletoux, president of the French Hospital Federation (FHF), said that out of a million public hospital workers, "we will no doubt find a few hundred or thousand who resist".

"Let's not give the impression that suspensions will be massive, since the opposite is true," said one minister. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal praised "the vast majority of care workers who have made a responsible choice".

However, some estimates suggest the number of unvaccinated workers could bring supply shortages in the French hospital and care sectors.

In the video player above: watch Matthew Holroyd's report for The Cube on French protests against mandatory vaccinations, and misinformation spread about vaccines.

During his speech in July, Macron also announced the phased roll-out of a COVID pass — attesting its holder had either been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the disease — to visit cultural and leisure venues, bars and restaurants and large events as well as to use long-distance public transport. He also warned that non-prescribed COVID tests would no longer be free come the autumn.

These measures were seen as a bid to boost vaccination, which had been flagging in the early summer.

A month after the announcement, Santé Publique France noted that an increase in vaccination of healthcare professionals had been observed over the preceding weeks. Then, general practitioners (GPs) had the highest rate with 70.6% of them fully inoculated while nursing auxiliaries and junior doctors had the lowest at around 43%.

As of September 7, about 84% of caregivers in nursing homes, hospices, hospitals and other facilities have received their full vaccination course, with the rate climbing to 91.1% for self-employed medical professionals such as GPs and nurses.

This suggests thousands of healthcare workers have yet to get vaccinated and risk losing their job.

Some healthcare workers have been taking part in weekly protests against the COVID health pass and mandatory vaccination.

"We are up against the wall. On September 15, some colleagues and I will be suspended without pay. The health system didn't need this," Corinne, a nursing auxiliary for the past 30 years, said during Saturday's demonstration in Paris.

The protest in the French capital was attended by about 120,000 people, according to official figures.

The CGT union has warned of "a health catastrophe" should medical staff no longer be allowed to work. FO-Santé, another union, has issued a similar warning, urging the government to extend the deadline and arguing that some facilities may be forced to close services due to staff shortages.

The government, however, has remained steadfast with Prime Minister Jean Castex stressing in late August: "We will not back down".

Health Minister Olivier Véran has meanwhile said that "systematic controls" would be carried out.