On the same day that the cabinet approved a vague plan for the gradual lifting of restrictions, without any time-frames, the member of the health ministry’s epidemiological team, Leontios Kostrikis, declared on his nightly television appearance that despite the small number of confirmed cases on Wednesday, “this does not mean we shall deviate from our course.” There had been 20 confirmed cases out of 2,312 tests, which he described as “undoubtedly a very good number”.
A broader issue was raised by this. Who decides when the time is right for the gradual lifting of the restrictions, the politicians or the epidemiologists? Will the epidemiologists allow the government to deviate from the course they have imposed? Speaking about the cabinet’s plan, finance minister Constantinos Petrides seemed to suggest the scientists would have the final say. He said vital businesses would be reopened from early May, provided the epidemiological data allowed it.
Allowing the scientists make such key decisions undermines the democratic process. They are not the elected representatives of the people and are not accountable. Worse still, their expertise only relates to epidemiological matters and their exclusive objective is to stop the spread of the virus. But they do not see the broader consequences of their recommendations on the economy and on people’s psychology.
One suggestion by members of the health ministry’s team of advisors is for the lockdown to remain until there were seven to 10 days of no confirmed cases. This might not happen for another two months, but by the end of those two months the state may have completely run out of money, businesses would be unable to reopen, tens of thousands of jobs would have been lost for good, thousands of people would be destitute and we will have entered a recession worse than that of 2013.
This is why we cannot allow people that see the coronavirus as an exclusively medical issue to call the shots. Our government acted on the advice of the epidemiologists at the start of the outbreak of the pandemic and succeeded in controlling the spread of the virus, but now we must move on.
The epidemiologists should now explain the choices we have over how we deal with the virus, but it is our government – our elected representatives – that must make the decisions, taking into account non-medical matters such as the consequences on businesses and public finances, as well as the violation of our democratic rights, which have gone on for long enough.
When it comes to these matters, scientists are not the best advisors.