M.ag that the weather made the Greek Prime Minister cocky. While the middle of Germany sank in the snow, there were spring-like temperatures of around 20 degrees and sunshine in Greece.
At the weekend Kyriakos Mitsotakis could be seen on video recordings on a balcony on the island of Ikaria, together with 30, 40 people. The head of government was already criticized in December because he posed for photos with other excursionists during a mountain bike tour – close together, without a mask. The host of the Balkans Assembly announced succinctly that all security measures had been observed.
The behavior of their prime minister is likely to upset the Greeks. Because a large part of the population will have to adhere to strict corona measures again from Thursday. The greater Athens area will then be put under a tough lockdown again for two weeks and shops and schools will have to close. With around four million people, more than a third of the entire Greek population lives there. Tighter regulations have been in force since Saturday and there is a night curfew from 6 p.m. Greece had only relaxed the strict lockdown in mid-January – and is now picking up again.
The reason for this is the British corona mutation, which is spreading rapidly, i.e. variant B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in Great Britain and, according to experts, is significantly more contagious than the original virus. So far, 403 cases of the mutation have been recorded in Greece, the head of the national health authority (Eody), Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, said on Monday. He assumes that the British variant could dominate the infection rate in Greece in the coming months. “Better a lockdown than a lot of hospital admissions,” Arkoumaneas told the Athens news channel Skai.
How long the lockdown will ultimately last is uncertain. The prime minister promised that if possible it would be the last sacrifices that society would have to make. “I can feel the nervousness after all these months, but there is no economy without health,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Tuesday evening.
The case of Greece is a cautionary example – also for Germany. When Chancellor Angela Merkel consults with the prime ministers of the federal states on Wednesday about extending or easing the lockdown, the main question is: How dangerous can the mutations be in Germany? Merkel recently said she needs to look at how far the UK virus has gotten. The pressure to open shops and schools is high, especially given the current decline in the number of infections.
The situation in Greece was very similar in January. The country broke the second wave in an exemplary manner. Early on, since the beginning of November, the Greeks were only allowed out of the house for valid reasons, such as going to work, visiting a doctor, shopping for groceries or doing physical activity. Every time the citizens had to send an SMS to the civil defense, which was often checked by the police.
The effort was rewarded with low numbers. The virologists gave the green light. And so, in mid-January, Greece largely opened its shops, elementary schools, kindergartens and churches. Shortly before, Prime Minister Mitsotakis had said that each closure would cost the Greek economy more than three billion euros a month. Even the secondary schools should be allowed to reopen.
The optimism came too soon. Experts are now even warning of a third wave, which could be even more violent than the second. The Greek newspaper “Kathimerini” spoke to a professor at the University of Athens whose team is studying wastewater in Attica, the most populous region in the country that is now being sent back into hard lockdown. Nikos Thomaidis told the paper that the weekly average viral load had increased sharply – last Friday by 205 percent compared to the previous week. An initially gradual increase has turned into a Escalation full-blown. “It is clear,” he said, “we are facing the third wave.”
Greece relies on rapid vaccination
This development hits the tourism sector particularly hard. Greece’s economy is dependent on vacationers. Before the Corona crisis, the industry’s share of the gross domestic product was around 20 percent. All hopes rested on the fact that the season would be better this year than last. That would be sorely needed because the economy is suffering from the pandemic. The Greek debt ratio rose to over 200 percent last year. This is the highest value within the EU, which shouldn’t actually exceed 60 percent.
The government in Athens is therefore hoping for a quick vaccination – not only in its own country, but also in other areas, so that tourists can come from there. Greece is a strong advocate of a European vaccination certificate. “The people who are vaccinated must be allowed to travel freely,” Mitsotakis demanded weeks ago. But Brussels is lagging behind such debates. The time is not yet ripe for the discussion of possible advantages for vaccinated people, said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen recently.
But the Greeks didn’t want to wait any longer. You are now agreeing “travel corridors” with selected countries. On Monday, Greece and Israel agreed that vaccinated people could travel between the two countries without any conditions – including without quarantine – as soon as the flight restrictions are lifted. A similar regulation is already on the way with Great Britain. Both Israel and the UK are vaccinating their respective populations much faster than most EU countries. Travel countries like Greece could benefit from this.
But whether the Greek season will actually be successful also depends on how well the country gets the third wave under control. In the greater Athens area, the Attica region, 70 percent of the intensive care beds are already occupied, according to Health Minister Kikilias, and there are further admissions every day. The Greek health system is not well prepared for such emergencies – the years of severe financial crisis have left their mark.