The transition from the government’s “stay home” coronavirus containment policy to the gradual lifting of restrictions and the “stay safe” campaign is not going to be easy. Everyone, from the experts and advisers of the government to its officials, is saying so.
The message regarding the initial response to the outbreak, “stay home,” was direct, was aimed at everyone and held everyone equally accountable. There was no way for it to be misunderstood. The “stay safe” phase, however, is much more complicated, harder to grasp and even harder to impose. This is why the prime minister insists on talking about the “individual responsibility” of every citizen and resident of this country, which is now being put to the test in earnest. It was easy up to now for Greeks to show such much-lauded discipline, because the restrictions were strictly enforced and there was a widespread sense of fear.
There is no doubt that the government is taking a political risk – not to mention a public health risk. It has been forced into this action by the need to get the economy moving again, by the enormous pressure exerted by various groups – foremost of which was the Church of Greece – and also by the realization that a large part of the population is starting to suffer from isolation fatigue.
The opinions of the experts have not been made public (though rumor has it that they are conflicting), but it was evident from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ most recent address to the nation that the government is prepared to take responsibility for that risk. The absence of chief medical adviser Sotiris Tsiodras or any other expert from the televised address was poignant, as was the choice to have the details of the plan for each sector presented by deputies rather than ministers.
Perhaps the prime minister was seeking to showcase close associates who are not that well known to the general public, or perhaps he thought that the cabinet’s technocrats would appear more credible and have more resonance with the people than the New Democracy politicians who head most of the ministries. Regardless, the prime minister and the government have once more shown that they are resolute and, more importantly, that they have given serious thought to the next phase of the coronavirus crisis and its planning – knowing full well that the opposition, and SYRIZA especially, is waiting to pounce. It is clear from its reaction to the gradual opening of schools that the leftist party is just waiting for something to go wrong. It is nothing short of tragic that the main opposition is basically hoping for a resurgence of infections, but this is how SYRIZA thinks and this will not change so long as populism continues to prevail.
Greece, in short, is entering a new phase of economic and social activity after having done very well in the previous phase of containment. This will be a lot more complicated and for some people (the vulnerable groups) a lot more dangerous too. At the same time, we can also expect political controversy to start heating up as the prospects for the economy are anything but rosy.