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Opinion: Greece Has a Health — Not a Tourism — Emergency

Greece faces an emergency
The healthcare sector in Greece is on the verge of collapse. Credit: AMNA

By Phil Butler

Greece has a gigantic problem. No, this is wrong. Greece has an emergency!

This pandemic is a gnawing catastrophe, unlike anything the people here have seen in decades.

And the disaster grows geometrically because the country’s leadership cannot prioritize human life above other considerations.

The people have lost faith, the system is cracking, and not just a few have sounded the alarm. In the halls of power in Athens, it seems as if truth and logic are the enemies these days.

Job one, protecting the people of Greece, has taken a back seat because of lobbyists demanding the undoable. No, I speak incorrectly again. These lobbyists are demanding the unthinkable.

With people sick and dying in almost every prefecture of the country, the people in charge of the country are running around bragging about the “handling” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Take Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis, for example. He and others can be seen on a throng of news networks proclaiming “VICTORY” and “SUMMER2021,” and “ALL YOU NEED IS GREECE!,” when old people with heart conditions sit on waiting lists to be vaccinated in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Heraklion.

Theoharis’ ministry was at the Moscow International Travel and Tourism Exhibition – MITT 2021 — this past week, proclaiming Greece’s doors would be open to Russians on May 14th.

Healthcare sector in Greece on verge of collapse

Meanwhile, the country has diagnosed record numbers of COVID-19 cases. The healthcare sector in Greece is on the verge of collapse. Thousands of businesses and one million workers are on the ropes. The situation is in a shambles.

And Mitsotakis seems to be moved by international corporations — by TUI, the airlines, and the big hoteliers of Greece.

News released from Celebrity Cruises, in Athens on the day of Greece’s Independence celebrations, shows clearly Greece’s leadership’s priorities.

The cruise line, a TUI partner, was praised by Mitsotakis and Tourism Minister Theorharis for resuming Greek island cruises starting in June. And the CEO of Celebrity made no secret of her appreciation for Athens’ help.

Here on Crete, every shopkeeper, medical worker, or laborer has a different version of what’s going on.

But everyone I speak with has no doubts as to the cause of this ongoing tragedy.

Business interests rule Greece

With the solution in plain sight, the ultimate inoculation of every citizen, there is no mistaking who is standing behind the governors in Athens.

Business interests are in plain view, pushing and prodding at every turn to get policies and narratives that help a few elites.

You can find them easily on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and in the media, cheerleading Mitsotakis and clapping one another on the back.

Their latest New Democracy cheer shows hotelier associations and big travel entities bragging about how Mitsotakis invented the Green Certificate program the EU is approving of.

Soon, Europeans will be able to fly hither and to, as long as their hosts can rest easy COVID is not traveling with them.

Vaccinations are a month out

But Greeks, what about Greeks? The larger issue of people’s lives seems to be lost in the parliamentary boardroom.

Some people have counted beans so long, they can no longer see human beings. Even in my own country, as dysfunctional as the leadership has become, the U.S. National Guard has been called up to administer roadside vaccines to the people.

Here on Crete, vaccinations are a month out, even for people who are at risk. People with heart conditions, people of advanced age, with other underlying conditions — many will not even start getting vaccinated before April 20th.

To make matters worse, many fully staffed and funded vaccination centers here in Heraklion Prefecture are closed, inexplicably.

At the end of the day, all this uncontainable tourism season joy from bigshot hoteliers and politicians is not about emerging from a devastating pandemic and people being able to breathe again, it’s about carving up €875 million from the European Investment Bank for supposedly making Greece more sustainable.

Meanwhile, for better or for worse, Mitsotakis’ rival Alexis Tsipras hits the nail on the proverbial head with this Tweet:

“After five months in #lockdown, we are at the worst point since the start of the pandemic. I would expect the Prime Minister to take political responsibility. To address the Greek people and say “my fellow citizens, we have failed.”

Here’s the situation. On March 18, Greece recorded over 3,000 new cases of COVID-19. A few days before, there were 3,465 new cases identified, which was a new record.

Now, allow me to be blunt. Before these geniuses reopened the country to tourism in Summer 2020, the whole country did not have 5,000 cases overall.

Theoharis and Mitsotakis proclaimed every other day that the rising number of cases had nothing to do with tourists. The reports showed relatively few cases coming from across borders.

But this was not the problem. The problem was the psychological effect opening borders had on the people of Greece.

How can you tell citizens all is clear in one breath, and demand they wear masks and lock themselves in their homes out of the other side of your mouth?

I sat in tavernas last summer and watched Greeks donning their masks while Australians or Norwegians ran free like careless souvenir-hunting fairies all over Heraklion. Grasp the mental image here!

Greeks struggling to make ends meet

None of my friends with small businesses benefitted one iota because of the rebooted tourism season. A few of our friends who own big resorts cut their losses and paid bills with the trickle of guests arriving after June, but overall the people here just suffered.

Some got 400 or 500 euros from the government to tide them over, but that was in March or April of last year!

Every day I hear the same stories, of my Cretan friends struggling to make ends meet. They take to the olive groves to toil for sustenance, they lay off their employees, and they beg the electric company not to shut off the lights.

And in Athens, these bobbing heads proclaim supreme intelligence and stalwartness for Greece’s role in making yet another EU policy!

A policy, I might add, contingent on vaccine shots the bloc has not yet procured or distributed. And now, Greece’s choice of the less expensive AstraZeneca vaccine is in question because of concerns over side effects.

I do not want to even imagine the potential calamity should EU ministers halve the use of the Oxford variant of coronavirus vaccine.

I sent a letter to Mitsotakis only last week begging the PM to consider following more than 50 countries, including Hungary and Slovakia, in approving Russia’s more effective Sputnik V vaccine.

After all, in an emergency, leadership’s obligation is prioritization. And while the GNTO was in Moscow waving Russian tourists in, why was Mitsotakis not on the phone with Putin?

Phil Butler is the editor of Argophilia Travel News

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