OPINION

Editorial

If Greece was quick to deal with hoaxes playing upon global fears over anthrax attacks, the envelope sent to the Greek Health Ministry yesterday was the first test of the government mechanisms in circumstances of credible threat. Until yesterday, hoaxes, albeit irresponsible, still contained an element of interpersonal jesting among friends or acquaintances. Yesterday’s event was different as the selection of the recipient betrayed that it was consciously intended to cause panic. And panic can jeopardize social and economic stability, even if no dangerous bacterium is found. In this light, yesterday’s incident at the Health Ministry vindicated the officials who insisted that Greece should not take the matter lightly but rather set up mechanisms which could combat such incidents immediately and effectively. And this would be necessary not only in order to build the requisite defenses against a genuine threat but also to cultivate a sense of security among citizens, a feeling that the authorities are standing by, ready to diagnose if there is cause for concern and limit the consequences of real hazards. If the ministry was thrown into justifiable confusion and anxiety despite the quick intervention by the competent authorities, one can only speculate on the degree of panic were such incidents to multiply. The new mechanisms were tested for the first time yesterday and showed that the Greek authorities were in a position to deal with the crisis. There was, of course, some confusion and some delay in clarifying what was going on; there was also an – inexcusable – rumor that it was only an exercise. Generally, however, the actions of the health officials who took over and isolated the area and the coordination of the medical and lab analyses was carried out in an organized fashion, while it is also certain that the degree of alertness will increase in the immediate future. There is only one weakness, which does not concern the measures and their implementation so much as education. People have to be given more detailed information and more practical directions about how they should react in similar incidents, what steps they should take and whom they should call. Cool heads and knowledge can both help the authorities and discourage hoaxers.