WAY FORWARD

Pressure to reopen mounts as virus holds

With economic and social costs becoming untenable, the plan is to launch retail by end-March

pressure-to-reopen-mounts-as-virus-holds

With health officials unable at the moment to predict when the viral load in Attica and other badly affected areas will start to subside, the government is striving to chart the way forward under pressure from the heavy economic and social toll exacted by successive lockdowns.

What is clear is that the ominous daily rates of hospitalizations, intubations and deaths make any plans for the resumption of retail on March 16, immediately after Clean Monday, highly unlikely.

Bearing this in mind, the most optimistic scenario for the government foresees the opening of retail stores with limits to the numbers of customers per square meter by the end of the March. This scenario also provides for the opening of restaurants, but only with outdoor seating, some time in April.

What’s more, with the completion of the first round of vaccinations in May, it is hoped that it will be possible to return to some form of normalcy for the economy. 

Any decision taken will depend on the resilience of the national health system and not so much on the infection rate, which is growing among younger age groups and is likely to continue in the foreseeable future though it is not, however, expected to burden hospitals to a large degree. 

Although the current restrictive measures are not very different form the ones last March – with the exception that more economic activities are now allowed – they have failed to yield the desired results for two main reasons.

Firstly, because a sense of fatigue has set in among the public, which has also impacted inspection mechanisms. A second reason that has been postulated is that, compared to last March, fear of the coronavirus has subsided, especially among younger people.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ aides say that the rationale behind not adopting a tough general lockdown and why an attempt will be made to open retail and then catering is that the financial costs of supporting workers and businesses affected by the existing constraints are already untenable.

The 2021 budget provided 7.5 billion euros for support measures. However, the relevant budget has already reached €11.5 billion. At the same time, only from the suspension of the operation of the retail trade, the state is losing about €1.1 to €1.2 billion per month in revenues.