Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA)
The government plans to reopen retailers as of Monday, with the click-away method, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Parliament on Friday, referring to the system where consumers pick up their online orders in person.
Later on in the afternoon, Development & Investment Minister Adonis Georgiadis announced the reopening of the retail sector in Greece on Monday (January 18), allowing anew the physical presence of customers in shops, but the click-away method will remain in effect in areas which are epidemiologically burdened.
During his briefing on government’s handling of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mitsotakis also reviewed the number of available ICU beds and referred to the donations of the private sector, such as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which increased the beds for Covid-19 patients in ICUs. “Today we have 424 unused beds in ICUs and the luxury to discuss the relaxation of pandemic restriction measures,” he said, adding that the number of positive cases remains at under 3 pct and has been dropping steadily the last 10 days.
His EU proposal for a Europe-wide digital certification of vaccination could “become a communication bridge between Europeans, overcoming restrictions in travel, something extremely important for Greece ahead of the summer season,” he said, reflecting anxiety over the next tourism season.
A complicated and difficult project such as the national vaccination program is likely to have problems, “but the issue is to locate them quickly and resolve them,” Mitsotakis pointed out. “By the end of the first quarter, we will have been able to vaccinate nearly 2 million citizens,” the premier said, asserting that “the target of securing the population’s safety by early summer is feasible.”
After criticizing main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras for “reverting to your old self, armed with the cliches of a minority segment of your party”, in his response to Tsipras’ speech Mitsotakis said the opposition had nothing to propose beyond hiring more medical staff for the National Health System.
He admitted that infectious diseases experts and local officials of Thessaloniki had requested of the government a shutdown of their city earlier than what happened, but this was not recommended by the Health Ministry’s experts committee.
Overall, he noted, “it would have been better that the lockdown lasted only three weeks, but the number of infections did not drop at a hoped-for rate.” Data needs to be constantly evaluated, he added. Citing the example of Germany, which went into lockdown to April, he said to Tsipras, “I didn’t see anyone criticizing Chancellor [Angela Merkel]. The facts changed. Is that so difficult for you to understand? […] It’s not a Mitsotakis pandemic – it’s a Covid-19 pandemic. As unhappy as that makes you on several levels, we managed better than other European countries, and this is good for Greece. It may not fit your opposition narrative, but it remains good for Greece,” he said.
Mitsotakis said that “you need to understand we are all in this together – if you want to criticize something, back it up with substantive proposals.”
Commenting on reopening retail, the premier said that any such opening, whether of schools or economic enterprises, entails some dangers. “We have no proof that retail had a substantial role in the virus’ dispersion. Supermarkets are still operating and there is no dispersion linked to them,” he stressed, while in terms of mass transport, the government he said had provided to the public the number of buses added to the fleets in Athens and Thessaloniki.
Tsipras blames government
Addressing parliament during the debate on the pandemic, main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance President Alexis Tsipras on Friday said the government was fully to blame “for all that is happening and all that is coming.” He accused the government of being in the grip of “ideological obsessions” and the “arrogance of power”, and of refusing to share the views of society.
According to Tsipras, Greece was in an “extremely difficult” situation, one which demanded that everyone show “a new sense of collectiveness, a new sense of solidarity”.
He noted that anyone who, in such a crisis, behaved or handled matters in a self-serving way, whether politically or economically, was not equal to what the circumstances demand.
“Sincerity and devotion, without party and petty party political favours, in the effort to save as many human lives as possible, must be the priority of all of us,” he said.
Tsipras also referred to scientists’ warnings that a third wave of the pandemic, possibly worse than anything that came before it, could be on the way: “We are not saying this to frighten anyone. We are saying this in order to prepare ourselves and others; the country, society, the national health system and our own selves,” he said.
The main opposition leader attacked Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for “mistakes and omissions” in the handling of the pandemic and said the latter’s assessment of the handling of the second wave of the pandemic as “successful” indicated a “fundamentally different view” of reality, citing the 5,500 victims of Covid-19 in Greece. Among others, he criticised the government for failing to provide more support to the national health system or ensure “basic protection measures” on public transport, and the prime minister for “unforgivable negligence and carelessness”.
Tsipras also went on to criticise the government’s record in supporting the economy during the crisis and claimed a lack of organisation in administering the vaccine, mixed messages, and noted that Greece had at one point exceeded both the EU and the US for deaths per 100,000 populations, ranking 50th amont 53 countries for resilience against the pandemic.
“Whatever the coordinated propaganda may say, Mr. Mitsotakis, I fear you are not the prime minister that does not bear any responsibility but the prime minister that is irresponsible,” Tsipras said.
Gennimata presents KINAL plan
Opposition Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Fofi Gennimata presented her party’s proposals for dealing with the pandemic and vaccinations in her address in Parliament.
Noting that these were specific, well thought out and formed a comprehensive plan, while she strongly criticised the government’s “mistakes and omissions”, which she said had cost human lives and urged the ruling party to adopt KINAL’s proposals promptly, before the situation got out of hand.
Gennimata also stressed that there must be transparency over the order of priority for vaccinations and “no more mistakes” that undermined public health.
A vaccine in itself was not enough and also required a plan and action on all levels that would allow an easing of destructive lockdowns, saying that KINAL’s aim was to “make society strong again… not keep it hostage but set it free.”
She also indicated her party’s backing for vaccinations and also vaccination certificates, saying that these should be in English in order to facilitate travel.
KKE leader attacks government
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas on Friday said that Greece’s vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus was now “very far from being mass-scale” and could not conceal the government’s indecision and huge responsibility, speaking during the parliamentary debate.
He roundly dismissed the government’s argument that Greece was “doing better than other European countries,” in response to being confronted over not taking more measures to support the national health system or to protect health in place of work, public transport, schools and universities.
“In all countries, the people are experiencing the results of a policy of commercialisation and privatisation in the health sector, which in our country you have all without exception, followed,” Koutsoumbas said, noting that European governments, including that of Greece, were not handling the pandemic based on the needs of their people but on the needs of their business groups.
He said the government has converted the national health system to a “one-disease system” with the inevitable repercussions this had on overall health needs.
Koutsoumbas also accused the government’s planning to make sweeping changes that roll back labour and trade union rights in the midst of the pandemic.
Speaking at a regular briefing on the pandemic, Development & Investment Minister Adonis Georgiadis said on Friday that retailers, hairdressers and beauty salons may allow up to 4 customers per 100 square meters, and 1 customer per 25 square meters in shops larger than 100 square meters. The latter applies also to malls and discount villages. The opening schedule proposed is between 07:00 and 20:00.
Shoppers will be allowed 2 hours to complete their purchases, from the moment they receive the SMS permission message from the 13033 number.
Customers of hair salons and beauty parlors will be required to set appointments, and the owners must be prepared to show the listing of appointments to authorities if required.
Restaurants and coffee shops are excluded from reopening, however, clarified Georgiadis, as “the pandemic currently does not allow for it, while the danger for a broad dispersal of the virus is still high.” He also stressed that the ministry will not hesitate to revoke all the lenient measures coming into effect on Monday, if new data and health experts point to this direction.
Speaking alongside Georgiadis, Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias added that churches too will reopen to the public on Monday, allowing only 1 person per 25 square meters and a maximum of 50 people inside at any one time.
The reopening of shops nationwide does not cancel the current overnight curfew, he noted, which remains in effect between 21:00 and 05:00. Travelling across from one prefecture to another is also still prohibited, he added, excepting only medical emergencies.
Additionally, the tougher lockdown restrictions imposed in the municipality of Elefsina, in West Attica, are lifted, but the same set of measures in the neighboring municipality of Aspropyrgos will stay, as 108 active infections are registered there on Friday: therefore, the retail sector will not reopen there.
Moreover, safety restrictions in the Kozani prefecture, specifically in the Kozani and Voio municipalities, are lifted but will remain in effect in the greater Kozani municipalities of Krokos, Siatista and Eordea until Monday January 25.
The additional lockdown measures are also lifted selectively at local communities in the region of Rodopi and Florina prefectures, after nearly-zero new infections.
Other areas in Greece where stores will remain shut include: Kalimnos and Lesvos islands, the areas of the Argolid, the Sparta municipality in the Peloponnese, the Boeotia region, and the Anthili community of the Sitia-Lasithi municipality in Crete.