January seen as pivotal for months ahead
Pandemic and actions taken by the government to offset its impact will set political tone
January is seen as particularly crucial for the government and may turn out to be the most difficult month of the Kyriakos Mitsotakis administration, as the course of the pandemic is expected to have a strong political impact.
The prime minister and his aides are aware that the first polls of the new year may show a drop in popularity for the ruling conservatives due to the surge in the pandemic and the new measures imposed to contain it, but they remain optimistic that this will be a temporary slump.
The first litmus test will come with the opening of schools on Monday. The government’s argument for resuming in-person classes is that youngsters can be monitored more closely at school compared to when they are free to gather in squares, playgrounds and cafes. If the decision turns out to be the right one and there are no major outbreaks at schools and no significant closures of departments, then the government stands to reap multiple political benefits. If, on the other hand, however, the large number of cases already reported among teenagers spins out of control, leading to entire schools having to be closed and the transmission of the virus to the rest of the family, then there could be a serious backlash.
The government’s other great challenge will be keeping the national health system afloat for the duration of this latest wave of the pandemic, spearheaded by the Omicron variant. A critical factor in the government’s calculations is how long the Omicron storm will last. Optimistic forecasts suggest that cases will begin to ease in around two weeks, while pessimistic scenarios predict that this will not occur until the beginning of February at least.
Omicron may not be as aggressive as the Delta variant, but the incredibly large number of cases has already begun to put pressure on hospitals, with patient admissions in some instances rising exponentially. On Wedesday alone, Covid admissions shot up nearly 42% to 641 from a seven-day average of 462.
Soaring prices is the other big problem for the government. Despite the decrease in energy costs over the last week, they have by no means reached the desired levels of the previous year.
Meanwhile, the government is expected to announce, probably ion Friday, a new package of measures to support the most vulnerable, as well as employees and companies affected by the latest surge of the pandemic.