GR US

Greece’s Economy Shaken Again by COVID-19, Slow Vaccinations

Αssociated Press

Chairs and tables are stored outside a closed traditional restaurant in Monastiraki, a district of Athens, on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - After shrinking nearly 10 percent in 2020 when COVID-19 hit, Greece’s battered economy looks set to take another hit with tighter lockdown measures limiting business activity and a vaccine campaign behind schedule.

It was hoped that by March up to 25 percent of the population of 10.5 million, or about 2.625 million people would be vaccinated but so far only 290,000 have, with a first batch requiring two shots three weeks apart.

The new target, said Kathimerini, is for one million vaccinations, less than 10 percent of the population, with health authorities saying to be effective in slowing COVID-19 at least 70 percent must be reached.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has both that the campaign is on schedule and that it’s not, blaming the European Union for not procuring more doses, with millions having been expected in Greece.

A catalyst is his plan for the EU to have member countries set up fast lanes in airports for those who have been vaccinated so that tourism - Greece’s biggest revenue engine - can get summer kick.

While international air traffic nearly ground to a halt in 2020, people afraid to travel and Greece barring those from hard-hit countries - including the big US and Greek-American market - now the worry is over speeding vaccinations.

Kathimerini said that the picture for the summer high season looks gloomy as people typically would soon begin making bookings but everything is up in the air, especially in the US again.

Vaccinations in Greece so far have centered on the elderly, beginning with those over 85 and the goal is to meet a 25 percent mark by the end of May, including everyone over 70 as well as those with underlying or multiple conditions.

Some government officials and politicians were first in line, saying they were setting an example to show the vaccine was safe and effective but critics said they just wanted to protect themselves.

A worry is whether there will be a spike again in February and March in mid-winter, the flu season, and a cold period during which viruses such as COVID-19 spread more easily.

After admitting he waited too long to bring the second lenient lockdown on Nov. 7, 2020 - it was eased and now tightened again - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the restrictions will last until they work.

His government, taking advice from a panel of scientific and medical experts, is wary that letting businesses open again with customers inside, instead of being limited as now with a click-and-collect method allowing purchase pickups outside stores, would see cases soar uncontrollably, the paper said.

In the 2021 budget, the government had set aside 7.5 billion ($9.05 billion) to subsidize businesses and laid-off workers, after a 17.5 billion euro ($21.11 billion) injection in 2020.

A deep recession is expected to linger after earlier hopes the economy would slowly improve in 2021, now not expected to happen until the second quarter of the year, the Centre of Planning and Economic Research KEPE said.

KEP said Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was expected to shrink 12.8 percent in the second half of 2020 - no figures yet in - which would see a 9.9 percent fall for the year.

For the first half of 2021, KEPE expects another 3.7 percent contraction, a report indicating that predictions are volatile and moveable because no one knows the real effect of the pandemic or just how long it will last.