It would be very difficult for Greece to go into a second lockdown to stem the rise of the coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday, during a conversation on “Politics, Power and the Pandemic” at the Athens Democracy Forum 2020.
“I think there is a general agreement among at least European countries that it is very difficult, almost inconceivable, to go to a second full lockdown,” he told Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah Harari, in a discussion moderated by New York Times chief business correspondent Liz Alderman.
“We can do localised lockdowns, we use contact tracing in a much smarter way, we do much more testing, but there is still a big question mark: can we manage to live with the virus while maintaining economic normality without a full lockdown and without putting too much strain on our healthcare system? I think no-one has the answer yet, because we still have three or four very difficult months [ahead of us].”
Mitsotakis said the government is “very optimistic” that it will not need to take drastic measures. “But can anyone tell you with certainty? I think the answer is clearly No.”
Commenting about the economic fallout from the first lockdown, he said the Greek government supported both the public and private sector, as well as employees, in an effort to ease the burden of the health crisis, describing the aid provided as a “welfare state on steroids.”
Talking about the management of the pandemic and privacy issues, Mitsotakis said it was not possible to have a police officer for each citizen, to check whether or not they were wearing a mask.
“As far as the Greek ‘experiment’ is concerned, we would not have been successful in fighting the first wave of the pandemic had we not be able to engage citizens proactively and build a relationship of trust between government – and by government I mean the state and not necessarily the elected government – and citizens. It was not easy because we came out of 10 years of crisis when all of our institutions were challenged but we did manage to create a sense of collective destiny, which, however, also assumed changes in individual behaviour – something that you know is always quite tricky to deliver and it can never be totally imposed,” the prime minister said.
“The question mark is can we manage to live with the virus while maintaining economic normality without a full lockdown and without putting too much strain on our health system? I think no one has the answer yet because we still have three or four very difficult months,” the prime minister said.
He said that the numbers are very carefully monitored as the country enters the fall and the winter. “We are lucky in Greece because we can be outdoors for quite some time but then you look at countries such as Israel that did very well during the first wave and are facing a great crisis now and you understand how unpredictable these things are. There is also an element of randomness, as you can have two or three super-spreader events and they can make all the difference,” Mitsotakis noted.
The prime minister stressed Greece’s advantages as a place to live, especially during a period such as the pandemic.
“If you could not just live but also work from anywhere, would you not prefer to work from here, from Greece, from a Greek island,” he noted, pointing out that they provided both connectivity, security and good healthcare.