THESSALONIKI – Battered on several fronts – from his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires, to the economy – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece will emerge a brighter country after he implements reforms.
Speaking at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where Greece's leaders annually lay out their vision for the economy and country, he tried to reassure that the resurging pandemic will be beaten even as he hasn't mandated vaccinations for all, only health workers so far.
His address Greece is Changing said the economy will grow faster than expected after being battered by lockdowns that closed non-essential businesses for months, which he said means more help for the young, middle class and companies.
With his standing weakest among the young, with the lowest vaccination rate, he reached out to them but didn't offer specifics on his pledge to get them work and attract those who had fled the country during a long-running economic crisis.
Mitsotakis said the latest data from the Bank of Greece and the country's statistics agency ELSTAT indicated a growth rate of 3.6-4.2 percent this year, higher than expected as an incursion of tourists bolstered revenues.
His government in 2020 alone pumped 17.5 billion euros ($20.62 billion) into subsidies for laid-off workers and their shut down companies, which he said saved their jobs when their businesses reopened.
He said, reported Kathimerini, the the number of employed was 71,730 more in June this year than the same month in a record tourism year in 2019 and that after thousands of businesses shuttered that there are 46,000 more now.
Savings went up 34 billion euros ($40.07 billion) and 19 billion euros ($22.39 billion) of that was in households he said, helping the middle and working classes come back even as the pandemic lingers and gets worse.
The paper indicated that much of the rebound was due to the state's aid packages keeping the economy afloat for months but that retail trade jumped 16.2 percent in the second quarter of the year, a good sign.
He also talked about major projects that will be financed in the area around Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city and a big voting bloc for the ruling Conservatives, who opposed the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA's deal that gave away the name of the province of Macedonia there to a new name for the neighboring country of North Macedonia.
Challenges remain, including a stalled vaccination program that has seen only about 55 percent of the country's population of 10.7 million fully inoculated – far less than the 70 percent needed to beat back the pandemic even more.