ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he’s thinking of letting professionals in key economic sectors such as tourism and catering jump ahead of others for the COVID-19 vaccine in a bid to restart the economy.
For now, the first batches in a slow rollout campaign that's far behind schedule have seen health workers and those above 79 be vaccinated first – only after a group of politicians got theirs.
Now the 60-64 age group will be vaccinated using the AstraZeneca version from the United Kingdom as others were getting the type from the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Those between 65-75 would be the next but the New Democracy leader, seeing the economy falter again during a third more restrictive lockdown after a second more lenient scheme didn't work, said they could find themselves behind others whose work is deemed important for the economy.
In a TV interview with Kathimerini’s Executive Editor Alexis Papachelas, he stated that, “Right now, our priorities are exclusively public health-related. We do whatever the (health experts) committee tells us to do. But when we will have solved the issue of the vulnerable, then other factors might weigh in – more political or economic ones.”
That would mean that the economy would take precedence over the health of many waiting for vaccines that are slow to be delivered, a decision tilted toward money instead, with no indication how that would sit with his team of doctors and scientists.
For now the analysts are still carefully checking data to follow the epidemiological evidence and hoping cases gradually easing back will continue to fall with the vaccines and tougher health protocols in place.
But with the spring and summer approaching, Mitsotakis admitted that's going to change to bring in revenues during the high times for visitors – if they're allowed to travel and those from the United States aren't barred again because of a high number of cases.
Tourism brings in as much as 18-20 percent of Greece's Gross Domestic Product of 165 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and in 2020 when the pandemic was raging took a brutal hit after a consecutive run of record years.
There are also worrying signs about this year, since people are far less willing to commit to holidays and planning to take theirs in their own countries and with uncertainty over international air traffic, the paper said.
The government is considering, once the inoculation of the over-60s – especially vulnerable to the disease – is completed, to give priority not to younger people but, specifically, to professionals of different categories.
That would be, the report added, those who come into close contact with many people while working, such as employees in the tourism sector, restaurants and cafés, deliveries, public transport, teachers and judges.
At the top of list would likely be those in catering and food sectors such as bars, restaurants and taverns, half of whom could close permanently if he lockdown continues into the spring after being closed more than half the previous year.
Officials are hopeful that vaccinations around the world will see people willing to travel again and make it safe for them to do so and remove the psychological barrier of fear keeping them stuck.
The European Union also is looking at Mitsotakis' recommendation that those with proof of vaccination have designated fast lanes at airports and avoid being tested or facing other restrictions, giving them an incentive.
If the EU does not endorse the proposal, Greece will seek bilateral agreements with countries where vaccinations have advanced the furthest, such as the United Kingdom, the US, Israel and Russia, the paper said.
For now though the priority is to stick to the lockdown after the second saw wide defiance of measures and normal traffic on the roads even though most non-essential businesses could operate only with a scheme letting people order online and pick up in person outside stores – now off.
Political rivals have accused the government of putting 60-64-year-olds above groups of people with medical conditions that may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“It is not a contest. The National Vaccination Committee has conducted a very detailed assessment of which groups are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister Akis Skertsos told state radio ERT.
That came ahead of a Feb. 14 meeting between government officials to discuss the entry into the vaccination program of vulnerable individuals under the age of 60 as soon as more doses are available, the paper added.
The government’s reasoning for opening the vaccination platform to the 60-64 age group stems from the data. Official National Organization for Public Health figures have shown that transmission of the virus mostly affects the 40-49 age group, followed by 50-59 and then 20-39-year-olds.
But it's different when it comes to deaths and those needing to be put on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs,) which affects mainly the elderly and those with multiple or underlying conditions too.