While the government handled the outbreak of the pandemic, the lockdown and the gradual restart of the economy in a very assured and calm way, it seems to be at a bit of loss now that infections have reappeared. There have been too many knee-jerk reactions after last week’s surge in infections which give the impression that it was not prepared for this possibility and that it may not be in complete control of the situation as it was in March, April and May.
President Anastasiades and Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou resorted to a rather stern, threatening tone after last week’s spike in infections and their decision to impose more restrictive measures. Failure to comply with the measures, warned Anastasiades, would “lead to unwelcome decisions involving stricter measures, to protect public health, with dangerous economic consequences.” Was he using economic hardship as a threat to make people obey the new measures? And the €300 fines for individuals not wearing a face mask indoors was excessive.
On Sunday, in a knee-jerk reaction the government decided to move Greece from Category A to Category B because a few visitors that had arrived on Friday and Saturday were found to have been infected. Was this necessary? Is there a number of infected visitors from a specific country that dictates the country’s relegation to a lower category? The government’s scientific advisory team was divided over whether action should have been taken, but the supposedly ‘safe’ option was chosen, without waiting a few more days to establish if there was a trend.
The surge in infections, once the airports were reopened and restrictions relaxed, were expected. The epidemiologists had warned this would happen, and it was naïve to think we would get through this period with one or two infections per day. It is a consequence of opening up the country, which was the only option after two months of complete lockdown. The government should have acknowledged this and explained that complying with the safety measures – face masks, social distancing, washing hands, vulnerable people staying at home – was now of vital importance, because we could not afford another lockdown.
It could also have mentioned that these safety measures would become part of daily life for the foreseeable future because the objective was for the economy to carry on operating – to protect as many jobs as was possible – regardless of the pandemic, which could be with us for many more months. The president could also have explained that the measures were necessary because another lockdown like that of March-April would be economically catastrophic for everyone.
People were much more likely to respond positively to such an appeal that encouraged calm and showed the government was in control of the situation. This approach would be much more effective in persuading people to follow the rules than threatening and frightening them.