ATHENS – A volatile summer of discontent drawing to an end, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will face an autumn of challenges, trying to rein in the stampeding COVID-19 pandemic, keep schools open even if there are outbreaks, and restoring an economy hammered by lockdowns but showing signs of life.
A little more than halfway through his four-year term, Mitsotakis has been praised and pilloried for his handling of the pandemic, scourged for his New Democracy's government lapses in responding to wildfires and attacked by anti-vaxxers.
He will give his vision during the keynote address Sept. 11 at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where Greek leaders outline their agendas in a kind of State of the Country speech, an event suspended in 2020 during COVID.
In an analysis, Kathimerini noted the three tests that Mitsotakis will face to keep his strong standing with voters as surveys put him as much as 20 points ahead of the major opposition SYRIZA, whom he unseated in July 7, 2019 snap elections.
A government official told Kathimerini that keeping schools open is crucial because it affects families and any emergency creates social anxiety, key reasons why he authorized pediatricians to vaccinate minors aged 12-17.
“We must make sure schools will not shut down,” an official said, adding that isolated cases should be resolved immediately, but is government has given contradictory signs about whether schools with an outbreak would be closed or stricter measures imposed to keep them going.
Despite the resurging pandemic, Mitsotakis has not required mandatory shots, except for health workers, and exempted the police where little more than half the officers have been vaccinated, sowing dissension.
Health care workers who refuse to be vaccinated are being suspended without pay, leading to worries about shortages of staff at public hospitals and putting pressure on his government, which has to deal with the rabid anti-vaxxers, who are being shut out of going into restaurants, bars, taverns, music halls, theaters and public gathering spots.
He has also reportedly ruled out any idea of resuming even lenient lockdowns as that door is closed with people now defying what's left of restrictions and the government not wanting to hamstring the economy further, especially after it jumped 16.2 percent in the second quarter of the year.
At TIF, Mitsotakis will say price pressures won't last long and will reach out to the young, the paper said, offering some kind of scheme to give them jobs but his office wouldn't give details.
“The young will be at the center of the prime minister’s speech,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou told reporters, aimed at the 18-29 year-old group where unemployment is often the highest.