Greeks behaving badly during lockdown

From the prime minister down, the people who make the coronavirus rules are also breaking them.

Greeks behaving badly during lockdown

ATHENS — In Greece, the people who make the coronavirus rules are often the ones who break them.

In the year since the country’s first recorded case of COVID-19, there have been numerous occasions when politicians have been caught out. The latest took place this month when the governor of the Southern Aegean islands headed to the small island of Chalki to get vaccinated — jumping the queue and, according to the opposition, leaving some residents unable to get their jab.

George Hatzimarkos from the ruling New Democracy party took a private boat from Rhodes to Chalki and was vaccinated last Sunday. At present, Greece is vaccinating health care staff and those aged over 75 (and is starting to vaccinate people aged 60-64 with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine). Hatzimarkos is 56.

Hatzimarkos justified his actions by saying he was on Chalki for business and was “informed that the vaccination process of the island residents has been completed and there were unused doses left, which … had to be used.” He said he “received the assurance that no resident of the island who wished to be vaccinated was left out.”

But the doctor in charge of the Chalki clinic, Athina Arvanitidou, said it wasn’t an impromptu decision at all and the governor’s name was on a list of those to be vaccinated for days before the jab was given.

Local opposition politicians said that at least two people were left unvaccinated on the island, as there were no jabs left, and accused the governor of “provocative behavior,” according to local Syriza lawmaker Nektarios Santorinios.

On Friday, the mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas, called for the resignation of deputy mayor Dimitra Akritidou and the president of the city’s municipal council Drossos Tsavlis, after it was revealed that they helped some 24 people get vaccinated by jumping the queue. The two were suspended by New Democracy.

The opposition Syriza party said in a statement the the ruling party had “reached the point of illegally vaccinating 24 executives in Thessaloniki with vaccines intended for young children with disabilities.”

Back in December, the government faced a backlash from doctors and opposition parties after dozens of ministers and government officials were among the first to receive a jab, even before doctors and nurses. 

Some 45 officials were initially included in the government’s vaccination plan as “priority staff critical for the government functions.” The list was then extended to include some 126 government officials, without the rest of the names being revealed. After a strong reaction to photos of ministers and officials in their 40s and 50s posting so-called vaxxies (vaccination selfies), the list was cut back to 66 people.

It’s not just the vaccination priority list that seems to be a problem for politicians and their staff, but also the coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been under fire twice for disregarding lockdown rules. Earlier this month, during a visit to the island of Ikaria, videos and pictures showed him attending a gathering at the house of a local MP from the ruling New Democracy party, Christodoulos Stefanadis‬, who is a doctor. 

“Τhe image that was presented hurt the citizens and gave the wrong message about the purpose of the visit itself … I assure you, it will not happen again,” Mitsotakis said in a TV interview.

Mitsotakis was also accused of breaking lockdown rules in early December, when he went mountain biking with his wife in a forest near the Parnitha Mountain north of Athens and posed for photos with several passers-by — none of them wearing masks. 

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, was also criticized for giving his support to protests and rallies. In a recent newspaper interview, Tsipras was asked about planned protests against a controversial education bill and said: “Of course, I accept that there is a risk [of the virus spreading] and that is why I believe that it would be right for the government not to bring such bills that provoke significant social reactions during a state of emergency, amidst a pandemic.”

The communist KKE party has organized occasional mass gatherings since the first lockdown was imposed a year ago. On November 17, the anniversary of the 1973 student revolt against the military junta, some 1,500 party members gathered in central Athens, despite a strict ban on such gatherings. They were tear-gassed and several reported police harassment.

The powerful Orthodox Church is also a regular rule-breaker.

Priests tend to go maskless during services, as well as at the many important national events they attend. The ruling body of the Orthodox Church has stated that coronavirus cannot be transmitted through Holy Communion, and continues its tradition of handing out bread soaked in wine from the same chalice to the faithful. Doctors say that the virus can be transmitted through saliva but government ministers have repeatedly refused to comment.

Thousands of people attended celebrations for Saint Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, on October 26. Weeks later the city was on red alert and remains one of the worst affected areas in the country.

On January 6 — Epiphany — the church ignored the national lockdown and opened thousands of churches for the celebration and told priests to defy government orders. The government relented and allowed limited attendance in churches.

“The church showed disobedience and the government showed tolerance,” said Metropolitan Athenagoras, spokesperson for the Holy Synod