How the divisive/contentious Greek political system reached consensus over the pandemic (but, please, don’t tell them!)

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

With a time-lag of some weeks over European countries, Greece is coming under the new-fourth or fifth – depends on how you count them – wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lightning spread of the Omicron variant. After a first timid reaction, based on optimist observations in South Africa, that the new variant may be aggressively contagious but leading to less grave illness that variants Alpha, Beta or Delta, Greece its population and those whose hand is on the rudder of the boat of State had a rude awakening.

Still, precautionary measures taken are just a shadow of the original strong-arm lockdown implemented at the first stages of the pandemic and/or of the equally vocal campaign to enforce vaccination. Since Xmas and New Year festivities were approaching – and that Greece lags by some weeks the wave cashing over North and Central Europe – the authorities tried to stay calm and leave for later measures such as closing down or restraining night life, making masks ubiquitous again and introducing early closing times. When it became evident that Omicron was increasing its tempo, such measures were introduced in time for New Year’s Eve – but the opening of schools after the winter vacations was not delayed as proposed (so as to freeze at least one nexus of transmission for Omicron) nor was teleworking enforced.  Prime Minister Mitsotakis refrained from quite some time to appear in the media, distancing himself from the stampede.

The stance adopted by the Government was eerily reminiscent of the position voiced by the Opposition in earlier steps of the pandemic – when its leader Alexis Tsipras was quoted as saying:” I would take the risk of people getting the virus” (to be true, he was referring to situations of crowding during political rallies).

This peculiar sort of consensus over risk-taking with Covid-19 in its Omicron stage washed over a further dimension of crisis management. When the pandemic first struck, the Opposition berated the Government for not implementing enough support measures for workers or tradespeople put of work. Soon enough, the levels of support measures implemented by the Government proved even higher than those demanded for by the Opposition. Successive extensions of support schemes, now bleaching over to efforts of containing also the converging wave of exploding energy costs and overall price rises, led to support levels far higher than anything one could expect even few months ago.

Last point: Opposition parties made a vocal case of the need to go for more systematic SARS-Cov-2 testing – and for free tests at that. After a protracted refusal period, the Government has started to give in for free testing (both rapid and PCR) upon doctors’ prescription.

So, in a peculiar way divisive/contentious Greek political system has been reaching consensus over the pandemic. But… don’t tell them!