Bracing up

By Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Greece is bracing up for the next months with the Covid-19 pandemic in the forefront of public concern.

Greeks have come home from their summer vacation with the Delta variant of Covid having spread all around the country, with Covid cases sloping upwards, with intubations in ICUs picking up and with the death toll growing. The Mu variant is also making its present felt – for the time being with limited spread; still, there is an uneasiness among epidemiologists due to the uncertain response of existing vaccines to the new variant (Greece is mainly an mRNA country).

The summer season has been a successful one for the tourist trade; as was the case last year this also led to an overall relaxation of protective measures, that are now brought back gradually. Problem is, human nature has it easier to relax than to get back to restrictions.

Contrary to expectations, hopes and official declarations the summer has come and gone with the fully vaccinated part of the population slightly over 5.85 million people, that is 55,6% of the general population and 65% of adults. Vaccination of teenagers and younger children has just started.

Schools will open in a matter of days with the vaccination of teachers reaching 75-80%; parents were puzzled to hear that whenever Covid-19 cases occur in a school, classes will be suspended only if the 50% + 1 mark is reached. (Mandatory vaccination of teachers has been discussed, but so far Union resistance has kept it at bay).

Since September 1, the staff of hospitals and old-age homes have to be vaccinated: close to 95% of doctors and 80% of nurses have taken the jab – a significant increase for the latter if compared to the 60% coverage of some weeks ago. Those refusing to get vaccinated have seen their employment contracts suspended; Union resistance has been rather feeble.

It would seem that the official position as to the overall status of the non-vaccinated citizens will be one of push-and-shove through extensive limitations the non-vaccinated population will be confronted with in everyday life. For the time being is not easy to say whether this “stick” dimension, along with the “carrot” of an easier everyday life for vaccinated citizens and continuing exhortations to take the jab, with prove sufficient. Greece being Greece the whole vaccination issue is getting increasingly politicised: this has not really helped to produce neither policy coherence nor public opinion commitment.