Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday in Parliament. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)
ATHENS – A second wave of COVID-19 spun out of control in Greece, bringing a second lockdown, mostly because the country's young defied health protocols and hung out in bars and nightclubs, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
The New Democracy leader blamed them for the resurgence of the Coronavirus although his government had allowed the clubs to stay open in a bid to keep the economy from taking another shock.
“We tried many plans but they were betrayed by the behavior of some people,” he told lawmakers in Parliament opening a debate about the government measures to contain the virus, said Kathimerini.
“We know today what were the sources of the outbreaks. We are saying this to explain to society that these behaviors create a public health problem for everyone. The main source for the spread was the entertainment of young people,” he added.
After the virus began climbing, the government tried half-measures to contain it, including requiring nightclubs and bars to close at midnight but that failed too when club goers bought beer and alcohol at street kiosks and kept the party going in public squares.
Police were instructed not to try to break up the gatherings but to try persuading people to leave but the virus kept spreading so fast in October and into November that he said he was forced to shut down non-essential businesses again.
Many people, including the young – some of whom said they couldn't contract COVID-19 because it was an old people's illness – also defied or ignored requirements to wear masks and stay safe social distances of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart from each other.
Mitsotakis said reinstating a lockdown “was not an easy choice” as he tried to balance saving lives against keeping the economy from further imploding, with the critical Christmas shopping season looming that could be a last lifeline for businesses battered by a first 10-week lockdown that began in March.
Mitsotakis, applauded around the world for the first lockdown, didn't take responsibility for letting the bars and nightclubs stay open even as his scientific and advisory committee warned the virus was spiraling upward fast.
He admitted, however, that tougher measures should have been taken earlier especially in Thessaloniki, which he said should have been locked down sooner after it was finally done only now.
“We could have imposed the use of face masks everywhere earlier, limit the evening entertainment earlier, take measures in Thessaloniki earlier,” he said without explaining why that shouldn't have been done in Athens and around the country too, with private parties going on even during the second lockdown.
The virus began spreading in the summer when he allowed the country to open to tourists in July, which failed to bring in critical revenues because those from hard-hit countries such as the United States and Russia were barred and people were afraid to travel and international air traffic fell to almost nothing.
He said that if health authorities had conducted PCR test on all arrivals Greece would have ended up with 10-20 percent of the tourism monies that did come in although not doing the tests led to the virus' spread and lockdown now that could be a crushing blow to the economy.
He insisted that the jump in infections “is not linked” with the opening of tourism this summer although cases began soaring then, blaming young people mostly for the new outbreaks hitting hard.
“Countries that remained completely closed, such as Israel, saw a second outbreak of the Coronavirus in September. Cyprus has had stricter procedures and is being hit just as hard,” he said in his defense.
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