NICE, France (Reuters) - A French hospital worker has said he is on hunger strike to protest against a government rule that healthcare workers will be suspended if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Thierry Paysant, a fire safety officer with the public hospital system in Nice, southern France, has pitched a tent in front of the city's Saint-Pons abbey, and erected a placard reading "Hunger Strike" in large red letters.
"We will go as far as we are able to go," Paysant said outside the abbey, where he had also set up a camping stove.
He said he was not against the vaccination itself, but objects to people being forced to get the shot or risk losing their jobs. "It's hard to swallow," he said. "It was imposed in a violent way."
About 3,000 workers in the health and care sectors have been suspended in France for failing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before a government deadline, health minister Olivier Veran announced on Thursday.
The new rules took effect on Wednesday, as part of a drive by the French government to boost vaccination rates and prevent a new flare-up of COVID-19. Most healthcare workers have complied, public health officials said, but a small percentage have refused to get the shot. [ nL1N2QI0L0]
One care home director said he feared staff shortages because some employees had refused to get vaccinated.
Outside the abbey in Nice, Paysant was joined by another man who said he was also on hunger strike.
According to his own social media posts, Paysant has in the past acted as a street medic during protests by the Yellow Vests, a citizens' movement that has organised demonstrations against the rule of President Emmanuel Macron.
Paysant said he hoped his hunger strike would amplify the voices of ordinary people who are uncomfortable about the vaccine mandates.
"I watch television and I see that people who are against or who express doubts are pushed to one side or dismissed as conspiracy theorists," he said. "We hope there will be a public debate."
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)