Crete, Greece’s biggest island, has lost faith in politicians who say they have “everything under control.” For weeks now I’ve watched citizens in the island’s capital city of Heraklion deal with the fear, the uncertainty, and the economic hardships COVID-19 and government strategies have dealt them. Walking my Cretan Hound Mojito these last few days, the “nobody cares anymore” atmosphere seems poignant and sad.
During the first wave of this pandemic, Crete island scarcely had a case of COVID-19. The few people who were admitted to the island’s hospitals were not even from Crete. And the people here abided loyally to every restriction placed on their movements and activities. At a point, the authorities in Athens began a dogged campaign to reopen the country to tourists, in an effort they assured everyone was aimed at helping Greeks. But the fact that Greek ministers were seen in high-profile negotiations with huge corporate tourism bosses escaped no one. Summer 2020 went on, TUI (Yes, I’ve predicted it all) and other tourism companies made some guarantees, and a trickle of tourists hit Crete and other Greece destinations. Some international companies saw a bit of revenue, and their stockholders got a bit more reassured, but Greek businesses flopped by the hundreds anyhow. But these “flops” were not the big problem. A bullet point from a recent Corporate Watch report opens a window into the cause of this disaster:
“TUI is accused of using its tourist industry muscle to pressure the Greek government into dropping COVID quarantine requirements last Summer, just before the tourist influx contributed to a “second wave” of infections.”
Snapping back to life here in Heraklion, on other islands, and in mainland Greece, the people got the message “all was clear”, when clearly it was not a safe move by the politicians or the outside influencers who brought about Summer 2020. The proverbial barn door was left open the moment cruises and TUI flights began hitting Greek points of entry. The administration took special pains to assure everyone new COVID cases were not coming from outside Greece. But again, infected Brits or Germans were not the problems. At least, not the big problem. The mixed message was. The big lie, the marketing campaigns, the comical chest-beating of Mitsotakis and his aides, at first worked. Even our team of reporters commented how effective the Greeks had been in stamping down the first curve (See Time Magazine). Then the audacity hit.
The second wave crashed ashore on Crete with a horrendous impact both economically and psychologically. In late Summer school officials assured our family there was nothing to fear from COVID-19, even if I had a bad heart condition. My young son was horrified to have to go back to school, but the ministry and the local principal insisted. Each day I drove Paul to school, I’d take special note of the people who were not taking the pandemic seriously. School officials seemed blind to the fact that many parents and kids refused to wear masks or to distance themselves. Finally, when cases skyrocketed, these “safe” schools closed once again, and kids stayed home to work on their homework and classes via computer. The second lockdown came as the autumn rains and clouds cast dreary shadows over an already battered population. If you want the truth of it, the Cretans buckled more under the weight of the second lockdown than against any foreign invasion in their history. Shattered is the word I would use. Still, they carried on, trying to balance the tears and fears with humor and determinedness.
It’s been months now. Months of reading news about Harry Theoharis or other key ministers parroting a ridiculous narrative. The business of Greece, catering to outside investment and companies, shone like the blistering August sun on Crete. TUI this, cruise line that, safe travel, vaccine certificates, and the list of countries that will be welcomed to Greece in May are spread like wallpaper across news outlet after news outlet. I work the news, so you can imagine my disgust at scanning the stories of Mitsotakis or Theorharis each day. The Prime Minister is seen in a photo opp on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier in Souda Bay, but you can’t find a photo of him at the hospital in his hometown of Chania. Ironically, sadly I must say, even though the tourism season is set to officially start on 14 May, the first German tourists arrived in Chania from Germany last weekend. Now, the third wave is hitting with unimaginable force if you consider the public relations and media effort that told everyone things were going as planned.
Last week Greece had successive record COVID infection days, one of which reflected more case numbers in 24 hours than during the entire first wave back in Spring 2020. Imagine how citizens who’ve been under a kind of house arrest felt after watching Greek ministers bragging on TV about the coming tourist onslaught and switching channels to see almost their whole country in red-critical ICU wise. Mitsotakis and Co. hold an online debate with their political opposition, who eviscerated the New Democracy administration.
Then, in a fit of final arrogance and hardheadedness, the Prime Minister of this country lays all the blame on the EU and drug companies for not shipping enough vaccine doses. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is convinced now. It was these geniuses who immunized small touristic islands in preference to those now lying in ICU beds dying from a smothering virus. And with this, the latest from Harry Theoharis and his boss is that Greece is considering accepting more tourists even before May 14th. So, in a warped and strange way, I guess it’s a positive thing that Heraklion residents have thrown away their masks.
At least the TUI budget travelers won’t feel out of place when they arrive as Greeks just toss their protection out of dispairing. I just hope the hospitals don’t overflow into the streets, the traveler expectations may not be met. What a historic calamity. And no one is being held accountable for the 72 poor people who died of the effects of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.