ATHENS – It’s the literal dilemma of being caught between Scylla and Charybdis for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic: lockdown or back off.
More than four months into a third closing of non-essential businesses that is seeing thousands – especially bars, restaurants, taverns, caterers and the food sector on the brink – he’s now facing both the public’s fatigue over tough measures and wanting to hold down cases and keep them alive.
A catalyst came in the form of violence: police trying to issue 300-euro ($357.30) to people gathering in a public square in the neighborhood of Nea Smyrni resisted, a video showing an officer beating one man with a baton.
That sparked a later protest by some 5,000 people that the government said was hijacked by anarchists and the urgings of the major opposition SYRIZA, erupting into a cascade of violence that saw a police officer badly beaten.
The fallout is still lingering with charges of police brutality there and trying to enforce lockdown rules in the face of growing defiance and people weary of policies that vacillate between easy and tough.
Coupled with cries from businesses that they won’t survive if kept closed much longer and the run-up to the religious observations to the May 2 celebration of Easter – and spring weather when people want to flock, Mitsotakis has found himself on a tightrope of balancing interests.
Compounding the problem is that even tightened measures under what had been a lenient quasi-lockdown has seen cases rise before receding, the numbers first soaring as people defied measures or held parties and conducted mass street protests.
But the number of critically-ill people on ventilators has overwhelmed public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) and Mitsotakis hasn’t, as he vowed, moved to commandeer private hospitals reserved for the rich.
In a report on the problem, Kathimerini said the government “now seems to show greater concern about the psychological state of the population; and is considering carefully lifting restrictions.”
That would likely depend on the recommendations of his advisory panel of doctors and scientists on whom he has come to rely, but whose advice he hasn’t always followed, admitting he waited too long to bring the third lockdown on Nov. 7, 2020 out of concern for the effect on businesses.
Even now, he said, he will have to consider the politics of helping the economy even at what could be the cost of damage to health, the government eager to get tourists to come.
Part of the plan is accelerating a slow-rolling vaccination program that now has run into worry whether the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca vaccines will be suspended after a number of European Union countries and others stopped using them after reports of side effects and dangerous blood clotting.
The government hopes to be able to start lifting restrictions on retail commerce by the end of March, the paper said, also wants to open schools again and allow some leisure activities, parks and playgrounds under lock and key.
The country’s National Vaccination Committee backed the continued use of the AstraZenca vaccine, following the advice of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
That came after an emergency meeting in which the government’s committee said that reports of “isolated incidents of thromboembolic events” do not merit interrupting the momentum of the vaccination program.
Only little more than one million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million has been inoculated, with a benchmark of 70 percent, or 7.49 million, needed to make the vaccinations slow or stop the pandemic.