In tourism news this week there seems to be an educated idea in the minds of the people who run the country. The pandemic situation in Greece seems to have separated the country into three distinct groups. The politicians and big business interests seem to be in their own world. The workers and service business who are at the end of their means in another. And, the citizens at risk and vulnerable in yet another. These are the three sides, as Plato put it, to the situation in Greece right now.
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato
All this week we’ve been reporting on Greece getting ready to fling her doors wide open for tourists. Aegean Airlines just announced new flight schedules. So did budget airline Ryanair, along with TUI, cruise lines, and just about every NGO, hotel, or another stakeholder dependent on tourism bucks. They seem to be in a Mr. Spock Vulcan mind-meld with the various ministries associated with tourism, the vaccine rollout, and fiscal concerns.
In the middle, quaking in a kind of COVID purgatory, the average retailers, shop owners, or restaurant workers are trapped between a rock and a hard place. Their opinions and even fears, flyswatted into adherence to government policies nobody has control over. For many here in Heraklion, the whole population being infected is a good alternative to losing everything. Vaccine availability matters a lot less when there is no souvlaki on the table for the kids. The news Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis brought home from Moscow, that TUI Russia has promised 300,000 tourists this season, it’s a kind of good news for them too.
Then there are those of us with some higher risk if the virus hits us. Sixty-something and older people, and especially people with problems that often come with age, sit here reading about how 90 islands will be protected a month before we are. No matter how brave and patient a person is conditioned to be, a year of this ungodly bullshit is just enough. But, in this strange reality, many of us live in, there are no solutions, nobody has the answers, and we may as well have bet on a Vegas racehorse gamble. The story of my own experience is fit for a book.
Meanwhile, the news the latest laboratory tests conducted in urban wastewater in the Athens region show COVID viral load at the highest levels since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Theodora Psaltopoulou, Professor of Epidemiology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, reported a gradual increase. Vangelis Manolopoulos, Professor of Pharmacology at the Democritus University confirmed. Their detailed data will be handed over to the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) and will “probably” be publicized in the coming days, they said. You noticed the “probably” there, didn’t you?
Then there’s the story a restaurant owner from Heraklion told me yesterday. Apparently, according to my source, the government seems to have covered up some data about last year’s restart of tourism. The restauranteur tells me that some vacationers showed him pre-filled health check forms they allegedly got to get them into the country. He also commented on a fear many of us had last year, that actual tourist infection numbers had been tweaked. And his clients who did not even know about distancing restrictions and who did not even have masks in their possession only accentuated my own experiences. Then the businessman shares a recent breaking news story.
Two days ago the Sunday Democracy (Κυριακάτικη Δημοκρατία) newspaper broke a story which included leaked minutes from meetings that seem to indicate the expert committee for deciding on pandemic measures is only a puppet panel for the Mitsotakis ministers to wave in front of the public. Another story talks about the tracking and tracing not working, and the whole epidemiological effort being skewed on account of non-working solutions/statistics. Based on what I am seeing on the streets, and any Greek will agree with me, non-working digital systems are commonplace here. Or rather, the norm.
So, what are we to think? Before you think on this too much, read the story Vaccines Drive Greece Toward COVID-19 Immunity, Shots Urged somebody fed the National Herald and other media. Let’s examine a couple of statements. First, we have this:
For the benchmark of herd immunity to be reached some 70 percent of the population of 10.7 million people – about 7.49 million – must be fully vaccinated but only about 10 percent have so far.
The numbers are right with the exception of how many Mitsotakis’ people are claiming. The official data shows about 7.2 percent fully vaccinated. And even if 10 percent have been vaccinated fully, this leaves a gulf of time and effort before Greeks can walk the streets without fear of either being infected or spreading the disease. The next statement is so confusing, maybe the reader can help me figure out what it means:
“The data shows that while cases were going up and down, and deaths and people in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) kept rising, that the vaccinated elderly are avoiding critical care.”
When I combine this with the fact most COVID-19 elderly patients get sent home to be quarantined and monitored, I have to wonder if many of them die there? I know, you were not aware many elderly COVID patients do their suffering alone, at home, with the police calling relatives to make sure they don’t go out. More on this on my personal blog. A quote from a British expat living and writing from Hydra in The Guardian is a telling window of truth for many of us here in Greece:
“The vaccination process has passed us by,” he said. “I know people like me who are in their 80s and are afraid to go out at all. We’re not complainers, we love Greece but for most foreigners here, at least, the system isn’t working.”
Rebecca Lieb, a lady who lives on the Pelion peninsula joins this writer and several thousand others who moved to Greece for one reason or another. Lieb has been one of the most vociferous ones, and her efforts have helped forced various governors to act accordingly. The Athens government’s digital effort though? The Tweet below from Kyriakos Pierrakakis, who is the minister in charge of digital awesomeness in Greece, shows a familiar tendency for Mitsotakis ducks to thump their chests prematurely.
Μέσα σε λίγες ώρες 240.000 από τους περίπου 690.000 συμπολίτες μας ηλικίας 65-69 προγραμμάτισαν και τις δύο δόσεις του εμβολιασμού. Τα ραντεβού κλείνονται με SMS για όσους είναι εγγεγραμμένοι στην άυλη συνταγογράφηση, μέσω του https://t.co/VNF8iCOtJi και στα φαρμακεία και τα ΚΕΠ. pic.twitter.com/780VIxWkzL— Kyriakos Pierrakakis (@Pierrakakis) April 2, 2021
Well, as of a few minutes ago my cardiologist is going to have to type and turn in a paper document to the effect his patient is high risk. How’s that for reassuring? Greece’s advanced technology cannot even allow doctors to label a patient. And a funny thing. On islands like Antiparos, authorities have encouraged “uninsured foreigners” to turn up at the local health clinic with passports or identity cards to get their vaccine shots! Wow. Can I borrow a boat?
Millions of travelers on their way starting in a couple of weeks. Sixty percent of the population to go before herd immunity. Remote islands fully immunized while countless unprotected senior citizens lie in ICUs and in their homes around the rest of Greece. And a leadership that is going even farther to open the flood gates at both ends. I wonder if the finance czar in Athens has calculated the staggering cost of being not only wrong but inhumane in the same crisis moment?
Some the end of this story reveals some desire a tourism restart, and nothing else matters. Others are so full of mixed emotion they fear only a tourism reboot will save them. And the rest of us suffer from the knowledge of lost causes.