One of the things the government has been justifiably criticised for recently is its lack of transparency and consistency in the publication of figures related to the pandemic, often using statistics selectively, in a way that suits its agenda. No such criticism could be levelled against the government with regard to its heavy-handed treatment of the unvaccinated, which could not be more transparent right now.

The latest ‘persuasion’ tactic involves imposing a high financial cost on unvaccinated university students, who want to attend lectures. Although the protocol is ready, the proposal still has to be approved by the council of ministers, which meets on Monday, but the motive is transparent. By hurting the pockets of students, the authorities hope to persuade them to get the jab, in what can only be described as thinly-veiled coercion. Even a member of the scientific team said it was on their idea.

If the proposal is approved on Monday, unvaccinated students would be allowed to enter the university only if they have had a PCR test in the last 72 hours. Considering they will require two such tests per week, at about €30 per test, they will need to spend a minimum of €240 per month for the SafePass that would allow them to attend lectures. The antigen test, which costs between five and 10 euro, and is considered perfectly adequate as a SafePass for people visiting busy restaurants and bars, or for going to work is unacceptable for entering university.

The only group that is obliged to have a PCR test is that of care workers, but that can be justified as they are dealing mostly with people classed as vulnerable. A university campus, in contrast, is not a place where the elderly, who have to be protected, congregate, so what is the reasoning behind this blatantly discriminatory, coercive measure, that is being championed by the university rectors? This is incompatible with liberal institutions, at least in theory, such as universities.

The relevant protocol was prepared some time ago by the health ministry’s advisory committee, on the grounds that the PCR test is much more reliable than the rapid test and because university students move around the country much more than school students, for whom a negative rapid test would be adequate to go to class. Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou, said another reason for the decision was that in lecture halls, too many people were gathered and the ‘safe distance’ measure would not be in force. In secondary schools in which children are on top of each other all the time, by this logic, the rapid test is adequate to control the spread of the virus.

At secondary schools, free rapid tests will be provided, the health ministry deeming them effective enough to prevent the spread of the virus? Children, according to Prodromou, were entitled to have free rapid tests because, it was not up to them to get vaccinated – they required their parents’ consent. University students and secondary school teachers, who will also have to pay for PCR tests, on the other hand, were adults and could easily get vaccinated, thus avoiding the cost of regular testing.

It could not have been made any clearer, that the PCR test requirement is a blatantly coercive measure. If ‘the science’ is the real reason, why are we still doing 50,000 rapid tests a day? What was point of spending so much money on an unreliable testing method? And why is this method of testing considered reliable in the case of secondary school kids, but not for their teachers who will be in the same classroom? The government cannot give a convincing answer because it does not exist. It is ‘fining’ university students, lecturers and secondary teachers for choosing not to be vaccinated, which is unethical.

Such tactics, irrespective of which side of the fence people are on in the vaccination debate, have no place in an open, democratic society in which freedom of choice is sovereign. The government can urge people to be vaccinated, it is perfectly entitled to argue in favour of the vaccine, the restrictions, the testing and the SafePass on public health grounds, but financially punishing the choice not to be vaccinated is a step too far.

The unvaccinated are not breaking any law so why are they being penalised by the state? It would have been more honest of the government to pass a law, making the vaccination of adults mandatory, if this is what it wants, instead of resorting to financial punishment of young people, who do not want to be vaccinated, for any number of legitimate reasons.

We hope the cabinet will see sense when it meets on Monday and stick with the same testing requirement for all educational establishments, because anything else would be persecution of a section of the population for exercising their right to choose how they want to live their life.