Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, at an interview with AlphaTV on Monday evening. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Dimitris Papamitsos)
ATHENS – Fearing a third wave of COVID-19 could strike, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he should have ordered a faster lockdown in Thessaloniki where it spread rapidly, forcing him to close down non-essential businesses across the country.
The New Democracy leader took to prime time TV the night of Dec. 7 to outline his government's plans to bring down the number of cases, deaths and people in Intensive Care Units (ICU's) in public hospitals.
Those soared when he was slow to pull the trigger on a second lockdown as he was wary it would further devastate businesses that had already undergone a 10-week shutdown in the spring and needed the critical Christmas sales period.
In a somewhat contrite tone, he said he should have moved sooner in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city and major port which had become a symbol of defying health protocols in a first wave.
He said, however, his scientific and medical team of advisors hadn't recommended doing it, appearing to shift the responsibility to them after they had been praised for their advice.
He said Greece's hopes of avoiding a third wave after the second lockdown ends, now scheduled for Jan. 7, 2021 after being extended a month, depend on following health measures such as wearing masks and staying a safe social distance, and also when vaccines arrive, possibly by the end of the year.
He said his advisory panel is not satisfied with the slow rate of decline of cases and other epidemiological data, which led the second lockdown to be pushed back to the dismay of businesses needing Christmas holiday period revenues.
He also admitted that the country's public healthcare system is under pressure, especially in northern Greece, which had been the hardest hit but still hasn't moved, as he said he would, to commandeer private hospitals.
Despite all those concerns, however, he said people would be allowed to gather for Christmas family gatherings but with a limit of nine people, not saying how that would be enforced in private homes.
He also said that schools and restaurants will remain closed and people won't be allowed to travel between regions even for family gatherings although he had been criticized for going to Mt. Parnitha to ride his motocross bike and was photographed with others there not wearing masks and in close proximity.
Asked about that event, where he went with his wife, he said that it was "… a mistake that I allowed myself to be photographed without a mask; not that I was riding a bike…I raise the bar of expectations high; I'll do my self-criticism, and I have. This (incident) gave me the opportunity to think of how important it is to set a personal example for the citizens. I was also annoyed that this I was annoyed that a carefree moment was exaggerated to such an extent."
Political opponents, led by the major opposition SYRIZA he unseated in July 7, 2019 snap elections, took shots at him for violating his own health protocols although much of the media downplayed the apparent hypocrisy.
In would could spell the end for some bars, restaurants and nightclubs – which he allowed to stay open despite being potential super-spreader sites – he said unless mass vaccinations are undertaken in early 2021they would have to wait until Easter, in May, to open, unless they've already gone out of business.
Mitsotakis also denied, as claimed by SYRIZA, the government was keeping two sets of books about the COVID-19 figures and fudging or faking the numbers, which the National Health System (EODY) also rejected as untrue.
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