The fact that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis left his home near downtown Athens’ Lycabettus Hill and went to Mount Parnitha for a bicycle ride at a time when everyone else is forbidden from leaving the proximity of their residence for exercise, was obviously a mistake. Laws in a democracy apply to everyone, and even more so to political leaders who should set the example.
However, the prime minister’s mistake – which, unfortunately, his office never publicly acknowledged – has been elevated into a major political issue by the opposition. It was a front-page story – with a huge headline and photograph – in the left-wing Avgi newspaper, and has become leftist opposition chief Alexis Tsipras’ weapon of choice in what is the toughest phase of the pandemic so far. Together, of course, with the “tsoureki incident” – the opposition has made a big deal of the fact that the prime minister had the temerity to buy this confection during a recent visit to Thessaloniki to inspect the situation at northern Greece’s hospitals.
With similar puerility, the opposition has invested in media reports suggesting that the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) keeps two different records of new coronavirus cases and “cooks” the numbers before making them public. It is a very serious accusation, which, however, has not been substantiated by any real evidence. Sure, there are problems at EODY – such as, perhaps, reporting cases from one day on the next – but that is hardly surprising under the circumstances. However, such dysfunctions should not be presented – without concrete evidence – as being deliberate and aimed at misleading doctors and public health experts or embellishing the situation.
To be fair, after the successful management of the first wave of the pandemic, the relaxation of measures over the summer and the general sense given by doctors and the government that we had beaten the coronavirus, the second wave was met with prevarications and delayed reactions (the prime minister admitted as much in Parliament). Restrictions should have been imposed earlier, especially in northern Greece, where there were signs that the virus was multiplying at a very swift rate even in September. Yet the lockdown there was not imposed until late October, even after the feast day of Saint Demetrius, which became a super-spreader event.
After a month in lockdown – longer in northern Greece – the country is still reporting more than 1,000 new cases, over 600 patients on ventilators and around 100 fatalities a day, ranking it 11th in Europe in mortality. Even though the end might be in sight thanks to the vaccination, we are still in a battle against the coronavirus and cannot let down our guard. Until the jab comes to Greece and 60-70% of the population is inoculated, the country remains vulnerable to a third wave – and in the grips of politically driven conspiracy theories and other such foolishness.
For the sake of scoring points, many in the opposition are even opposing reason. Instead of backing the government’s decision to ban rallies on November 17 (as it did on the March 25 and October 28 public holidays), they decided – like certain renegade priests who insist on holding public services for Christmas – that you can’t get the coronavirus during political gatherings. Instead of helping the country win the war against the coronavirus, they prefer to sow confusion and doubt about the decisions being taken by the prime minister and the experts.
The only thing they are accomplishing, though, is to erode trust in the pandemic control mechanisms, to strengthen the conspiracy theorists and to undermine the science. They are also inadvertently undermining the vaccination campaign and, as a result, potentially contributing to rising deaths – a heavy toll for the sake of a few more points in the public opinion polls.