ATHENS – After New Democracy government officials said there wouldn’t be any further penalties against the unvaccinated being locked out of most public places to slow the COVID-19 pandemic, fines up to 100 euros ($113.63) will be imposed for those over 60.
That will apply as of Jan. 16, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told his Cabinet, said Kathimerini, after he backed away from a pledge to consider mandatory shots if the pandemic worsened, and it has with record numbers.
There are about 520,000 people in that group as of now, with the elderly especially reluctant to be inoculated, in a curious mix of anti-vaxxers that includes people who think the vaccines aren’t safe or effective or are part of an international conspiracy to alter their DNA and control their minds.
Οι συμπολίτες μας άνω των 60 ετών που δεν έχουν εμβολιαστεί θα πρέπει να κλείσουν την 1η δόση έως τις 16 Ιανουαρίου. Θα έχουν απόλυτη προτεραιότητα. Διαφορετικά, κάθε μήνα θα επιβάλλεται διοικητικό πρόστιμο €100, το οποίο θα βεβαιώνεται από την ΑΑΔΕ και θα χρηματοδοτεί το ΕΣΥ. pic.twitter.com/BzV5sswZzn
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) November 30, 2021
The fine will be automatically charged by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue (AADE) but it wasn’t said how that would be collected or if it would be deducted from salaries or benefits.
The government has relied on persuasion campaigns to convince more people to be vaccinated that largely failed until jumping deaths and hospitalizations spooked more of them to be inoculated.
But the rate of those fully vaccinated – most versions require two shots weeks or months apart – has been stuck at about 62 percent, below the 70 percent level that health authorities said is needed to beat back the pandemic.
Mitsotakis made the move over worries about the new Omicron Variant that has appeared with the Delta Variant still a catalyst in driving up cases and concerns whether the vaccines would be effective as they begin to wear off, requiring boosters. No cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Greece so far.
An additional measure was announced ahead of the Christmas period: the provision of a free self-test to every adult from December 6 to December 12 and from January 3 to January in order to identify possible asymptomatic carriers of the virus and to better monitor the progress of the transmission of the pandemic during the holidays.
“The new ‘Omicron’ variant worries us and calls on us to be vigilant because it reminds us that the coronavirus can constantly surprise us as long as it finds ground to survive, especially among the unvaccinated … We will know more about the ‘Omicron’ variant in about two weeks. Sooner or later, however, it is certain that it will make its appearance in Greece as well. That is why we must continue to implement our policy even faster. In other words, we must save time. Vaccinations, many tests, application of the vaccination certificate and personal protection measures. This is the answer and not a lockdown that some people consider certain,” he said.
“And despite the great difficulties we are facing – the Health Minister will present later the situation in the national health system – our policy regarding vaccinations, at least over the last month, seems to be working. Already three in four Greeks over the age of 12 have chosen to be vaccinated. Our country today is second in Europe in terms of people doing the third vaccination dose. In the last few weeks alone, the appointments for the first and third doses in total have exceeded two million,” the prime minister stressed.
Greece’s overall COVID-19 death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed new infections at high levels. Roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.
Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers in Greece, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.
The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.
The opposition left-wing Syriza party accused the center-right government of shifting the responsibility of battling the virus onto ordinary Greeks and “targeting people over 60 … with punitive and financially debilitating measures that haven’t been implemented anywhere else in the world.”
Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis conceded that it had been a “politically difficult decision,” but defended the measure as the only way forward.
“If we chose the easy path we would say: ’It’s their problem,’” he said in parliament. “(Unvaccinated people over 60) wouldn’t get inoculated, they would die in their thousands and we would wash our hands of them so as not to lose votes. That is an immoral course of action.”
No details were provided on how Greek authorities would be able to establish whether people over 60 have been vaccinated. One possible way could be to cross-check with government social security databases, although this would require notifying the independent data protection agency and potentially passing special legislation to do that.