OPINION

Covid policy U-turns

covid-policy-u-turns

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis took it upon himself to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over. He made this very clear after he announced the new measure during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. He, and not the health minister, further appeared before Parliament in support of the planned legislation. The conservative leader knows that the measure will cause some political damage, although he secretly perhaps hopes that it will eventually not have to be implemented (the constitutional legality of the measure is also questionable) should the 100-euro monthly fine prove to be a strong enough motivator. It has to be said that the targeted population group comprises people who are very vulnerable to the virus and who nevertheless stubbornly refuse to have the shot. They represent a big risk to public health and an unbearable strain on the health system.

Covid-related developments abroad and at home, as Greece is logging a very high daily death toll, forced the government into making this belated policy U-turn. After all, Mitsotakis and his government ministers have passionately argued against mandatory vaccinations in the past. Their attitude was driven by concern about the political cost of such a decision: They did not – and still don’t – have the political courage to make vaccination compulsory for police and military officers, the clergy and other civil service staff. A decision to do so was made even more difficult because no other countries had taken steps in that direction until recently. The alarming course of the pandemic beat the hesitations of many countries and Greece followed suit.

True to form, opposition SYRIZA has made endless U-turns that, politically and socially speaking, border on the ridiculous. Alexis Tsipras, the ex-prime minister, and senior SYRIZA officials attacked the conservative administration when it tried to lure young people to get vaccinated by offering economic incentives. Also, they had been calling for mandatory vaccinations. Yet they were furious over Tuesday’s plan to fine over-60s for refusing the shot, proposing that authorities offer economic incentives instead. It’s all one can expect from SYRIZA it seems.

Meanwhile, the left-of-center Movement for Change (KINAL) alliance backed the government’s decision to fine unvaccinated over-60s. After all, KINAL had earlier sided in favor of mandatory inoculations. Nevertheless, the party, which is holding an open election for a new leader this month, has said it will not ask for a vaccination certificate from the voters that turn up at the ballot. Also paradoxically, organizers rejected the idea of online voting. Quite a U-turn.