Once again, Greece Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis is saying that the industry is not contributing to the rise in COVID-19 infections in the country. Last year, Theoharis assured all concerned that the tourism reboot had little effect on cases. However, even if the numbers can be trusted the ministry’s actions defy logic.
When the second wave of COVID cases began in the Fall of 2020, it revealed an underlying cause few have talked about. The government’s brazen confidence sent mixed messages to everyone in the country. Anyone on the fence about vaccines was sure to refuse the jab given the total lack of education initiative and the focus on economics. This year, the same flawed logic will help spread the Delta variant. Here’s what Theoharis told Reuters about the current situation:
“The opening of tourism was done very carefully, in the first 10 days of July just 74 out of 105,609 samples taken at the country’s entry points were positive, just 0.07%.”
Even if the official reporting of COVID cases can be believed, the psychology of hurriedly reopening the country this summer sends a deadly message to Greek citizens. The young and old Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has used as scapegoats, cannot take seriously warnings of danger when the tourism gates have been flung wide open. Now, Mitsotakis is making vaccination mandatory for some groups, and no real education campaign for vaccinations was ever carried out.
On Harry Theoharis’ Facebook profile, the tourism minister continues to brag about elevating tourist numbers, while paying lip service to safety concerns. The goal is crystal clear, to pad tourist arrivals as a factor of 2019 in some strange kind of success ratio. It’s like watching PR companies bump up stocks on Wall Street. Down on the street, the number of shopping bags, the Russians or British holding hands and strolling down historic avenues, does not match Theoharis’ figures either.
Theoharis has been rampaging around the world plugging Visit Greece, and the ministry has created half a dozen tourism promotions, but no solidified effort to get the public to vaccinate has been in the offing. August is coming up fast, and only 41% of the general population is fully vaccinated. And this, after New Democracy prioritized full vaccination of tiny islands above heavily infected sectors on the mainland and here in Greece. The so-called “Blue Freedom” campaign to make travelers to Greece’s smaller islands feel more comfortable, was yet another dizzying mixed message. Logic, apparently, is not in the tool chests of these leaders.
Greece reported 2,065 new COVID-19 infections and 10 deaths on Monday, and 3,109 yesterday. Theoharis and Mitsotakis say the rise in infections has nothing to do with tourism, but any sociologist with a ten-cent degree would beg to disagree. Tourism as a prioritized sector is one of the key drivers of social indifference to these vaccines. It seems fair to suggest that opening bars and nightclubs to appeal to tourists, slung unvaccinated Greeks into a melting-pot where Delta can rampage.
Meanwhile, EU officials are whining about Malta and requiring all visitors to possess valid vaccination proof before entering the country. It’s as if the economists in Brussels have lost all sense of what the terms pandemic or “medical emergency” mean. If discrimination means discerning whether or not a visitor is apt to get somebody in your country killed, then I say discriminate by all means. This is the problem for Greece. Anybody with a ticket and a suitcase is more important than even people at high risk who live in Greece. Rest assured, these policymakers are not nearly as worried about citizens’ rights, as they are about euros flowing.
Back in September of 2020, Greek officials were accused of concealing data on COVID cases in order to attract more tourists to the country. This story via The Independent may reveal another reason Athens officials prioritized small islands instead of bigger cities and regions. According to some doctors and parliament politicians, medical centers on islands were even instructed to pass their coronavirus statistics to regional health authorities, rather than recording them locally.
What this means is, the Athens leadership may have wanted to conceal cases arising from visitation to certain islands like Mykonos. Back then, Dr. Panagiotis Papanikolaou, the secretary of the Federation of Hospital Doctors’ Associations of Greece accused international tour operators of “strong-arming the government” into minimizing the number of cases in popular holiday destinations.
A big alarm went off once all the passengers on a TUI flight from Zante to Cardiff were forced to self-isolate after 16 people tested positive after arriving in the UK. More recently, At least 14 passengers on a boat from the Aegean island of Ios tested positive for coronavirus. It should be noted that officials do not carry out testing of such passengers unless prompted by indications of such isolated outbreaks. Still, Mitsotakis and Theoharis seem to be right about one thing. Tourists and Greece destinations are not in danger from COVID cases, only Greeks are. And making the pandemic into an economic emergency instead of a health crisis, but a lot more Greek residents in harm’s way.