GR US

Mitsotakis Sees Lockdown Turning Point for COVID-19 in Greece

Ευρωκίνηση

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during his interview with Alexis Papachelas. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Dimitris Papamitsos)

ATHENS - Tweaking a second lenient lockdown into a stricter third lockdown, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he can see the coming end of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was necessary to close businesses to save them.

The New Democracy leader, in an interview with SKAI TV after his government tightened conditions and health measures said Greece can now see not just the “light at the end of the tunnel, but the end of the tunnel itself.”

After admitting last year he was too late to bring the second lockdown Nov. 7, 2020 even as cases were soaring in Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki, he said he had to get tougher to save lives, even while risking the economy.

At least until the end of February, and perhaps longer if the epidemiological data doesn’t improve, people will be required to stay home although there’s a long list of permissible reasons for them to be out, with permission on their cell phones, downloaded or handwritten forms.

That includes going to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, doctors, telecommunications companies, wig stores, open-air street markets, pet shops, telecommunications companies (exclusively for the repair of appliances and the payment of bills), hearing aids, and flower shops for Valentine’s Day.

Religious services will be conducted without a congregation. The maximum number of people who may attend events such as weddings, christenings, funerals and memorial services is nine.

Day care centers, kindergartens and elementary schools were closed again after being reopened after being closed as the government wavered over what to do as the cases worsened.

Restaurants, bars, taverns, caterers and the food service sector that’s been closed more than half the previous 11 months will stay shut, allowed to operate only with delivery, take-out and drive-through services.

Mitsotakis opted for what he called “drastic measures” before the pandemic became uncontrollable as a vaccination program is far behind schedule and there are growing worries over a variant of the Coronavirus from the United Kingdom.

He admitted that there were "big delays" in the delivery of vaccines to member-states but added that it "would have been illegal" for Greece to order vaccines in bilateral deals as the European Union was the broker. "The damage would have outweighed the benefits," he said.

TAKING DEEP BREATHS

He said he didn’t want already beleaguered public health hospitals and health system from being overwhelmed as hospital admissions were rising, along with the number of patients on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICUs.)

He hasn’t, however, as he said he would, commandeer private hospitals to help after resistance and with many private doctors saying they wouldn’t take part in combating the health crisis.

“We were alarmed by the rise of hospitalizations in Attica,” he said. “This epidemic has a tendency to spiral out of control very fast. I preferred to take drastic measures so that we can put them behind us faster,” he added.

With businesses saying the lockdown would spell the end for many of them he said they had to understand that keeping them closed “will allow us to emerge from this ordeal that much sooner.”

He said he "hoped" that two weeks of strict lockdown will be enough to slow the surge and said it’s likely there will be rolling lockdowns and reopenings and lockdown off and on for at least two months.

That could cut into hopes for a tourism rebound in the summer with people reluctant to make travel plans to a country that’s locked down and not knowing when it will be safe to travel.

Individuals will still be allowed to travel between municipalities for physical exercise, using the SMS system, Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias said, adding that it would have been “class punishment” for people living in areas with no park access.

There was no explanation what would happen if that results, as it did previously, in people fleeing seaside areas and promenades in scenes of massive overcrowding or if police would be pushed to more strictly enforce measures than have fines of 500 euros ($606.58) for violations.

He said that travel between regions will be allowed for work-related or health reasons only while university students will be allowed to travel from or to the address of their permanent residence.

He said that taxis will be allowed to ply with a maximum of two passengers in addition to the driver. This means that there will be a maximum of three persons in the vehicle. The same limit applies to private vehicles.

The maximum passenger capacity on all public transport will be reduced to 65 percent, Hardalias said. Ferries can travel with 50 percent capacity.

While there was fear the state could run out of money to keep subsidizing laid-off workers and closed businesses - no word on how 32 billion euros ($38.82 billion) in EU loans and grants is being used - he said he was “very confident” the economy would hold up.

“There is no issue of asking for a new bailout,” he said, after three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($395.49 billion) ended on Aug. 20, 2018, failing to slow the country’s soaring debt.