ATHENS – People should keep calm and avoid going abroad unnecessarily in the face of an “emergency situation,” government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said on Thursday, on an Open TV breakfast show where he was asked to comment on a number of issues currently in the news.
Regarding a possible case of coronavirus on board a Blue Star ferry, he said a sample from the patient has been taken and the results will be out by around noon. It was also encouraging, he added, that the specific crew member does not appear to have come into contact with many people.
Asked whether more drastic measures were being planned to avoid a situation like that in Italy, Petsas repeated what Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in his address on Wednesday, saying: “We will take whatever measure is needed, earlier than it is needed.”
“The basic problem and the difficulty lies ahead of us, which is to avoid a mass need [of medical support], especially by vulnerable groups and the elderly that will need help in an Intensive Care or enhanced care unit. That is why we are telling everyone to take preventative measures, to stay home if they have any symptoms and to take stringent personal prevention and hygiene measures, so that we can overcome this problem together. If we do not display personal responsibility then, whatever effort we make, we will be faced with difficult developments,” he said.
Petsas predicted that additional measures will be taken. “We are escalating the plan that we had initially included in the Act of Legislative Content so that we would be ready for the worst possible scenario,” he said, adding that there will be financial support for those affected by the outbreak. “This will be done by boosting liquidity, on the one hand, because the turnover in many sectors of the economy has collapsed or will collapse over the coming period, and the protection of jobs, on the other hand,” he said.
The Eurogroup on March 16 will decide on measures in a uniform way in two directions, Petsas noted. The measures taken to deal with the challenge of COVID-19 will be exempted from calculating primary surplus targets and, secondly, if possible, these targets will be lowered. According to the spokesperson, the measures that will be taken to boost the economy will be “unprecedented”.
He clarified that there will be fail-safes to ensure that the decisions taken by the government to support employment will be implemented, since they are the basis on which the burden of the crisis will be shared by employees, employers and the state. He noted that of every four days leave taken due to coronavirus, one will be from an employee’s regular leave, one third will burden the state and two thirds will burden employers. If the situation was prolonged, however, the government will re-examine how this is shared out, he added.
Concerning the repercussions for tourism, Petsas said that Greece had an “extra advantage” as a Mediterranean country with a good climate and expressed hope that the prevention measures taken will assist in a slower and milder manifestation of the phenomena, so that the warmer weather conditions will also assist in the management of the virus.
“If we succeed in doing this, the strongest segment of the tourist season, which is from the summer onwards, will not be so greatly affected. In any case, the number of arrivals is different from the amount of revenue. Normally, when one delays in making a booking one pays more. Therefore, the season might be suffering a blow at its start but it does not seem as though this will last long, toward the summer.”
Regarding a possible extension of the closing of schools, the spokesperson said that all preventative measures will be taken “even sooner than is needed” and that if it is necessary to extend the closing of schools then this will be done.
Petsas was also asked about the prime minister’s message concerning the Church, and whether this was “a request, suggestion or instruction”, noting that the latest announcements by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and certain metropolitans were “moving in the right direction as regards prevention measures and rules of hygiene, as envisioned by the NOPH and WHO and on avoiding crowds”.
On relations with Turkey and a possible escalation into war, Petsas noted that “we are not afraid and not worried. We are doing whatever is needed to protect our borders, which are also the borders of Europe.” He noted that the Turkish president’s image was “tarnished” and noted that Erdogan had opened up multiple fronts “and is not doing well on any of them, so that Turkey is becoming isolated.”
“It is in isolation because it is using these practices with a deluge of propaganda, fake news, aggressive actions. We want good neighbour relations with Turkey and we say this in every possible tone. When this provocative behaviour stops, the way is open for it to be supported by Europe and our country,” Petsas said.