COVID bridges political opponents in Greece

COVID bridges political opponents in Greece

As winter is breaking in, Greece is facing another wave of COVID-19 infections.

The figures are frightening, although the government says that it is not only Greece, the whole of Europe is suffering from a new surge of infections.

In the last two weeks, Greece ranks ninth-worst in terms of the number of deaths by COVID per million, while it is well below the European average in the percentage of fully vaccinated. A strong unrepentant anti-vaccination movement keeps the figures of unvaccinated persons high and the government is resorting to measures of isolation and fines to avoid the worst. However, the worst may still come as the Greek National Health System remains without the necessary infrastructure, enough hospital staff and specialized health. Around 20,000 Greek doctors left their country for better positions and salaries in Germany in the last 10 years during the terrible economic crisis in the country.

For the last two weeks, the numbers have started rising dramatically. Scientists predict that from an average of 5,000 to 6,000 new cases a day and 40 to 50 dead now, we may see a rise to 10,000 in December with a proportionally higher number of deaths. This is because 59.2 percent of the Greek population is fully vaccinated. That leaves a very high percentage of people unvaccinated who are likely to get seriously ill and infect others. This is a poor result compared to Portugal, another Southern European country with a similar population to Greece, as it has 85 percent of its population vaccinated.

The “unvaccinated” are a diverse social mix. According to research conducted last August, the educational level of individuals influences their decision to vaccinate. Thus, 20.5 percent of those who have completed only elementary education state that they will never be vaccinated, while the corresponding percentage for those who have a university degree is 9.7 percent. Self-employed (14 percent) and the unemployed (12.6 percent) do not want to be vaccinated. An interesting finding was that large families were firmly against vaccination. Almost half (53 percent) believe that it is unnecessary to get vaccinated as the pandemic will end by itself soon, while the same percentage (53 percent) think that the risk is not all that great; doctors exaggerate the danger. A very high rate (86 percent) are worried about the vaccine’s side effects or (91 percent) believe that the vaccines have not undergone proper testing. There is also a high percentage which in principle is against vaccines, as putting something dangerous into your body. Many anti-vaccination people belong to the church or are influenced by international conspiratorial theories circulating the Internet.

As with everything in Greece, COVID-19 became an issue for political confrontation. The lack of investment in public health care by the conservative governing party of New Democracy is why Greece has failed to control the pandemic, the opposition parties argue. On the other hand, the government accuses the official opposition party Syriza of “caressing the anti-vaccination movement for political benefits.”

As the cases and deaths increased, so did the political polarisation with furious exchanges ongoing on daily TV-talk shows. Doctors are giving solid warnings: “Those who are not vaccinated will get seriously ill and will be in danger, while vaccinated people will get sick more mildly and proportionally few will need to be treated in clinics.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government, fearing the situation would get out of control, imposed further measures this week to isolate the unvaccinated. They will have to obtain a PCR test twice a week at their own expense -- a measure that has already forced thousands of young unvaccinated people to rush for their first doze against COVID. But what about the older ones, who stay mainly at home and are reluctant to get vaccinated?
But out of the blue, an interesting suggestion came from two politicians who, in normal circumstances, would be at each other’s throats in the parliament. Dora Bakoyannis, a veteran politician, former minister, long-serving deputy of New Democracy Party and the sister of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was a guest in a TV talk show. The guest from the official opposition was Nikos Filis, a deputy of Syriza and a former education minister. Contrary to a fierce battle of words, the political opponents decided to collaborate for a good cause. They made a joint call to everybody to get their vaccine shots and called on people vaccinated with two doses to go ahead with the third dose of the vaccine. They both agreed that the third dose should ve obligatory for people over 50 years old. That last point was a delicate point for the leftist politician who has accused the government of “oppressive” measures against people’s will. However, he saw that the danger was real. “What today may seem difficult, it may be possible, if all citizens unite for a movement for the defense of public health,” wrote Filis in one of his recent articles. And it seems that Ms. Bakoyannis saw an opening for joining forces.