Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a full horizontal lockdown throughout Greece for three weeks on Thursday, in a press conference given with the government's epidemiology expert Prof. Sotiris Tsiodras. He said the measures will go into effect from 6:00 on Saturday morning until November 30.
The prime minister said he chose to change the familiar format of his address to the nation and include Tsiodras in order to emphasise that the government is acting on the advice of experts, on the basis of the science.
"I want to show that the decisions are guided by the epidemiological data...the scientific data should not be an object of controversy. The final decisions are taken by the government and myself personally but the scientific data is not negotiable. We have decided that from Saturday morning at 6:00 we will once again enter a horizontal regime of suspension of activities until November 30," the prime minister said.
Mitsotakis said that the government wanted the citizens to once again be allies in this effort, displaying the same spirit of solidarity as in first wave of the pandemic. He noted that the second lockdown would be similar with that imposed in March but with some significant differences, chief among which will be that schools and kindergartens will remain open apart from high-schools and lyceums, which will operate remotely, and the universal use of masks in all areas.
Regarding the reasons for taking the measures now, Mitsotakis said this was prompted "because we saw an exponential rise in cases" and in a bid to act early.
"We saw...nearly 10,000 cases in five days. We saw a significant increase in hospital admissions, of those on ventilators, in how many ICUs we were forced to use, a bad ratio of admissions to discharges," he explained.
"We have to stop this wave. The 50 ICUs that we added to Sotiria Hospital, at this rate, could be filled in three to four days," he added.
Mitsotakis said that he had opted "to take drastic measures sooner rather than later. Many European countries were forced to take such measures when the epidemic had already gotten out of hand. I will not put the lives of our fellow citizens at risk," he said.
Mitsotakis said the measures will be imposed for three weeks in order "to allow ourselves a relatively more normal December, something that will resemble the holidays in other years."
"I know that there is great concern financially," said the prime minister. "Our duty is to have reserves. The counry has over 37 billion euros of cash reserves and nobody will be left behind. Our first priority are the most vulnerable," he emphasised.
Mitsotakis announced that the government's economy and finance team will hold a press conference later on Thursday to announce a new package of support measures. "I will focus on three additional measures. Those employees that will be furloughed in November will receive 800 euros in early December instead of 534 euros, in addition to their Christmas bonus.
Additionally, Mitsotakis said that all unemployment benefits that ended in September and December will be extend by two months. Finally, a one-off 400-euro benefit will be given to the long-term unemployed that no longer receive benefits.
"Some might ask why we did not wait 10 to 15 days to see if the measures we have taken bring results," added Mitsotakis and explained that "the aggressive increase in cases forces me to impose these measures now. If [the present measures] did not work, in 15 days the pressure on the health system would be unbearable and I can't allow this to happen."
The prime minister underlined "there are no margins for petty political fireworks," but despite the difficulties Greece has done better than most European countries. Any dispute of policies, he added, should be confined "to the political choices, not the scientific, epidemiological data. The decisions are political and we assume full responsibility."
Mitsotakis: Lockdown decision prompted by sharp rise in cases
Replying to press questions after he announced the start of a three-week nationwide lockdown in Greece starting next Saturday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that his decision to order a lockdown just days after announcing a set of less stringent restrictions was because there was a sharp change during this week, with cases rising exponentially.
The prime minister was asked whether he had failed to properly assess the situation and noted that the decisions were a response to the previous week's data.
"For reasons we are not certain we understand, there was an exponential growth in the spread of the virus in the last week. Last Thursday I took the first decision but something changed dramatically this week. We saw a rapid reproduction of the virus and we are starting to see the same trends in other parts of the country," said the prime minister, adding: "I have to remind you that based on last Thursday's data the picture in the country was much better than the one in all the other European countries but this will change this week. I chose to take measures before the country turns red and the health system comes under great pressure."
Our intention, said Mitsotakis "is to contain the rapid spread of the virus now, not only to avoid putting pressure on our hospitals, which is my first priority, but also because I want us a return to some semblance of normality in December, the holiday season, which is an important period for the market."
He clarified, however that this normality would have rules and that Greece "will not return where we were in June and in August," underlining that the resilience of the economy is significant and that the country "has ammunition" at its disposal.
The prime minister announced that special measures will apply for the farming sector, such as seasonal workers for the olive harvest, in order to ensure the food supply, while noting that the end of the lockdown will not mean a return to "business as usual".
"We consider that three weeks will be enough but that does not mean that in December we will return to normality. We will open the economy with great caution and responsibility so that we have a Christmas that resembles those we have every year," he said.
He assured reporters that Greece's health system will be able to cope, noting that the lockdown was being imposed precisely for this reason, as even the most advanced health systems cannot withstand an exponential rise in the transmission of the virus. He said the health ministry will announce additional hiring in the health sector, where 6,800 doctors and nurses had already been recruited and ICUs almost doubled.
"We will continue this effort so that anyone needing treatment in an ICU can get it," he added.
On the issue of public transport, he said that the government had done the best it could, increasing the number of buses in Athens and Thessaloniki and using innovative financing methods. Throughout the world, he noted, there was intense crowding on public transport at peak times, "which is why masks are so important".
"The one mistake, which was perhaps predictable, was the overall complacency that this was over. Even though we knew it would come back, even though we prepared, psychologicall we all wanted to believe that we were done with this nightmare," the prime minister said.
He also noted that Greece had done significantly better than many other countries by taking action early, despite the long-term structural weaknesses of its public health system.
The prime minister sent a message of optimism, noting that the health system still had significant capacity and had not reached its limit.
"Until a vaccine is found, we will have a constant process where we alternately press on the accelerator and the brakes. The more responsible we are with the basic measures and the more convincing we are in explaining the measures, the less we will need suffocating restrictions," he added.
He emphasised that certain activities, such as clubbing, dancing and singing were in themselves "super-spreader" events. "We failed to adequately explain this to our young people and we were not alone," he said.
He clarified that Greece will have access to all the vaccines that are bought by the European Union, based on its population: "We are already working on a plan for rapid vaccination based on the quantities at our disposal and, of course, we need to convince the more timid of our fellow citizens that these vaccines are safe," he said.