For the last 20 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has been testing the endurance of all citizens and of those managing the public health crisis, especially of the doctors and healthcare workers of the National Health System, who from the start have given their all with tireless efforts and personal sacrifices.
At the beginning, the government responded to the pandemic in a timely and clear manner. Without a second thought, it took the necessary, restrictive public health measures and protected the country and its people, gaining time and marshalling the necessary forces to bolster and suitably prepare hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
The government and the PM were rightly lauded for their decisive stance. They gained the trust of the Greek people and their poll ratings skyrocketed, offering them the freedom and ability to manage the epidemic.
What followed was not analogous. The government succumbed to the truly many pressures and impatience of citizens for the opening of the economy and society so that they could be freed from oppressive restrictive measures.
While everyone can understand the need for normalisation and a return to regular life, in the summer of 2020 there was great laxity in the implementation of measures. and the precautions were inordinately small if one considers the magnitude of the public health threat.
The lack of preparation was revealed in autumn one year ago, when the second wave of the pandemic raged in Northern Greece, leaving behind thousands of victim and ravaging regional hospitals.
Last year’s management of the epidemic left much to be desired. The government in the next phase acknowledged its mistakes – especially the delay in deciding a timely intervention and in imposing measures that could help confront the second wave.
However, it was constantly mired in the dilemma of choosing between the necessary public health controls and the re-opening of the economy, and that often hindered necessary actions.
Thereafter – due to the situation and in one sense logically – the government pinned all of its hopes for managing the public health crisis on vaccines. It successfully organised a vaccine rollout with an adequate and trustworthy nationwide network which allowed a large number of our fellow citizens to comfortably visit vaccination centres without delays or problems.
Yet, its stance was not decisive in handling a gradually expanding circle of unvaccinated citizens.
Elective affinities, especially with various exponents of the super-religious and conspiracy-minded segments of the right wing, obstructed the adoption of compulsory vaccination, especially for professional groups that play a critical role in managing the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, the military, mass transit employees, priests, and a mass of employees who work in public spaces.
The government wavered and started negotiating with crucial professional groups, allowing various groups who were responsible for delays to disseminate their unscientific views.
As time passed, the pace of vaccination slowed down and the target of vaccinating the necessary percentage of citizens to shield the country this winter was not met.
Unfortunately, the government did not follow the example of other European governments, which took a clear stance against anti-vaxxers and imposed compulsory vaccination on a host of critical social groups.
Today, they enjoy better public health conditions than us. In Greece, we face the threat of a pandemic derailment in Northern Greece, where the forces of the anti-vax movement are prevalent.
Right now, the government appears to be in a state of fatalistic inertia. It has accepted that the unvaccinated will fall ill, that in any event the wall of immunity will be raised at any cost [a high number of cases], and that it will not reinstate general, nationwide public health restrictions.
It should know, however, that this way the National Health System will again be overburdened, that there will be a rising number of deaths, and that the country will be at risk of losing the good reputation that it had built in the previous period.
Nevertheless, there is still time to adopt a more decisive, firmer stance toward the unvaccinated.
The government has yet another chance to intervene. It would be a pity to waste it.