President Anastasiades on Monday met the ministerial committee that prepared the plan for the gradual lifting of the restrictions while on Tuesday he heard the views of the scientific team. On Wednesday the council of ministers is scheduled to meet to finalise the plan, which nobody expects to go very far because the president’s inclination, by all accounts, is to err on the side of caution.
He has nothing to lose politically by doing so as most people enthusiastically support restrictions as do all the media. He knows the economy will be in big trouble through next year or longer but nobody would blame him for putting public safety first; the recession would be put down to the coronavirus anyway. Understandably, he would be reluctant to lift most of the restrictions and be held responsible if there is a small surge in infections.
It does not help the government that most of the media are still in panic mode, ardently championing the lockdown and presenting the lifting of the measures as a big risk. The state broadcaster’s television and radio presenters, for example, on Tuesday were talking about lifting of measures with trepidation, implying that keeping us under full lockdown would be preferable. The main headline of a daily newspaper on Tuesday claimed ‘President afraid of traps’ reporting that he was under pressure from businessmen to speed up the lifting of the restrictions.
Against this background the government is unlikely to go as far as it should with the lifting of the restrictions, but this would be a mistake. For example, the suppression of personal liberties such as the right to free movement must end. The practice of requiring state authorisation to leave your house is, simply put, unacceptable, and the five weeks it has been in place long enough.
The government can force us to wear face masks and rubber gloves in public places, ban public gatherings of more than six people, urge members of vulnerable groups to stay at home, but it cannot stop us going to the beach, the mountains or for a drive in the car. As long as social distancing is maintained the risks of the virus being passed on would be minimal. It is also true that the overwhelming majority of people act responsibly and take all the necessary protective measures.
The government must trust its citizens because the excuse used to stop free movement – that everyone must remain locked up because a tiny minority was acting irresponsibly – cannot hold sway. There must be a plan to deal with the undisciplined tiny minority instead of using their behaviour as justification for keeping the repressive measures in place.