Greece cannot just see the “light at the end of the tunnel, but the end of the tunnel itself,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday in reference to the coronavirus pandemic, during a wide-ranging interview on Skai TV.
The prime minister defended his government’s decision to impose a new lockdown on the Greek capital starting on Thursday that will impact the heavily hit retail sector and also take children out of school again, saying be opted for “drastic measures” before the public health system becomes overwhelmed by new admissions.
“We were alarmed by the rise of hospitalizations in Attica,” he said. “This epidemic has a tendency to spiral out of control very fast. I preferred to take drastic measures so that we can put them behind us faster."
Responding to reactions from shopkeepers and other business owners struggling to stay afloat amid successive shutdowns, Mitsotakis urged them to consider that the lockdown “will allow us to emerge from this ordeal that much sooner.”
He said he "hoped" that two weeks of strict lockdown will be enough to stem a spike in infections in Attica, but noted that reopenings and shutdowns are widely expected over the next two months to keep the number of new infections low.
Asked about the state of the economy which has taken a hit during the pandemic, Mitsotakis says he is "very confident" about the country's liquidity, noting that "there is no issue of asking for a new bailout.”
The prime minister was also upbeat about the progress of the country’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, saying that 500,000 people are expected to be inoculated by the weekend and 1,700,000 by the end of March.
He admitted that there were "big delays" in the delivery of vaccines to member-states but added that it "would have been illegal" for Greece to order vaccines in bilateral deals. "The damage would have outweighed the benefits," he said.
Commenting on criticism regarding his recent visit to the eastern Aegean island of Ikaria, where a resident posted a video on social media of him dining on the balcony of the local mayor’s house as part of a large group of people, Mitsotakis explained that the visit was very brief and comprised of the same people the prime minister had traveled to the island with.
"I accept that the image has hurt people and did not do justice to my intentions…it will not be repeated," he said.
He also accused the leftist opposition of blowing the incident out of proportion. “The country needs a serious and responsible opposition,” Mitsotakis said, acknowledging, however, that he “understands people’s annoyance” at the footage, which has cast the prime minister and his entourage as flouting coronavirus restrictions.
On the issue of Turkey, Mitsotakis clarified that Greece is not discussing the demilitarisation of its eastern Aegean islands or what Ankara calls “grey zones” in the Aegean their bilateral talks.
He also dismissed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments earlier on Wednesday about him as "a momentary outburst."