Greece stuck between Delta variant and German/French imposition

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

To be caught between a rock and a hard place sounds an unpleasant situation for anybody. The fact that the expression originated from the situation in which American mining workers found themselves in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, in the early 1900s, when they had to choose between accepting low wages /poverty and unemployment /starvation doesn’t insulate present-day Greece from finding itself in a comparable position.

Just when the high hopes of a tourism recovery were taking hold for a country largely dependent on the hospitality trade – last year, Covid-19 travel restrictions cut tourist-sector incomes by 3/4 compared to 2019; expectations for 2021 stood at getting back to 45-50% of that year we are fond recalling as a benchmark – the realization struck that the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-19 virus may well roll back the lifting of intra-EU travel restrictions. The Greek Government, until recently emboldened by local opinion polls and priding itself of having dealt quite efficiently with the second and third Covid-19 waves through successive lock-downs, was patiently waiting for the UK to shift to milder policies over its nationals’ summer vacations (like those Germany had already opted for).

So it experienced quite rough a landing when at the recent EU Summit Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, also proud of having championed the EU Digital Covid Certificate that was meant to operate as “EU gateway” for tourism, got the cold shoulder by the likes of Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron for his country’s to easy-going stance towards travelers inoculated with non-EU-authorized vaccines. (A large part of the Greek tourist trade relies on Balkan, Russian or Turkish visitors: meaning Sputnik-V or Sinovac). Since visitors arriving in Greece can then use Schengen privileges to get to Central or West Europe, health officials there get nervous by the day.

So, the rock: can Greece waive an important part of its tourist trade,the one coming from its direct northern and eastern neighbors, in order to keep its western clients happy? Now, the hard place: can Greece live with a Paris-Berlin axis of displeasure, let alone of mainstream media undermining  the idyllic reputation of “Covid-free” Aegean islands?

Not exactly the sunny 2021 summer we were made to take for granted.