As Greece joins lockdown club, unions criticise government’s new wage-reduction provision

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

At the European Council on Thursday (26 March), Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated his support for issuing ‘coronabonds’, saying the nine countries which signed a letter calling for them account for 57% of the eurozone’s GDP.

While the PM Mitsotakis emphasised the need for Europe to take bold initiatives, noting that the US had announced a $2 trillion economic support package, he also highlighted the mismatch between the rhetoric used to describe this crisis (unprecedented, etc.) and the measures taken so far. The PM then called for all options for a single European response to be explored.

After the Greek government had decided to put the country on lockdown on Monday morning (23 March), labour unions have lashed out against the Greek government over a wage-reduction provision which stipulates that for a 6-month period, all businesses can employ 50% of their employees for two weeks per month, giving them 50% of their wages.

The provision is aimed to avoid layoffs and encourage part-time or rotational employment due to the coronavirus crisis. Today the labour ministry is expected to provide clarification on the measure.

Lockdown

“In Italy, unfortunately, one person is lost every two minutes. And the situation is getting worse everywhere in the world. So I am obliged to prevent our country from undergoing such a tribulation,” Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “But I will not allow a frivolous few to undermine the safety of most,” he added, referring to the Greeks who ignored the “stay home” rule.

In light of the lockdown, many Greeks decided to “get isolated” in their summer houses in the countryside, risking spreading the virus to the entire country.

Travels to islands

The Minister of Maritime and Island Policy Yiannis Plakiotakis announced on Friday (20 March) stricter measures to halt a rising trend of Greeks getting isolated on islands to avoid the coronavirus spread.

According to the measures, only permanent residents will be allowed to travel to islands as well as vessels which transfer food and other essential products. The return of those who wish to depart from the islands is also allowed.

“As you know, the government is taking all measures that can help reduce COVID-19. The message is ‘We stay home’ and restrict our movement to the utmost necessary to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens,” Plakiotakis said.

Greece has so far reported 464 cases and eight deaths. A total of 78 people are currently hospitalised, of whom 16 are intubated.

Quarantining medical professionals

After 21 staff members of the Athens General Hospital “Hippocrates” were quarantined, as a doctor at the Otolaryngology Clinic was reportedly found positive to coronavirus, a total of 300 health workers are now reported to have been quarantined.

Infectious disease researcher Nikolaos Sypas said the in-hospital spread of coronavirus affects doctors and nurses is a big problem and needs an urgent solution. “That is why citizens should not come to the hospitals with light symptoms,” he said.

An aircraft of Air China carrying 500,000 masks landed on Saturday (21 March) at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens.

Greek health minister Vasilis Kikilias thanked Beijing for the support saying it’s a “relief” for the country considering the shortage it’s currently facing when it comes to masks and protective medical equipment.

Temporary ban on flights? 

The authorities have ordered seasonal hotels and tourist facilities to remain closed until 30 April and are thinking of temporarily banning all foreign flights as of 22 March.

Greek media quoted high-ranking government sources as saying that Athens is seriously looking into the scenario of banning all foreign flights as of 22 March and should officially confirm within hours, while no decision has yet been made about domestic flights.

Specific cargo flights will be excluded from the ban, especially the ones related to essential products.

The side effects of this measure will be severe as many Greeks are trapped in foreign and non-EU countries and will not be able to return to Greece before Sunday (22 March).

Greece mulls banning all foreign flights from Sunday

The Greek government is seriously considering temporarily banning all foreign flights as of 22 March to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Greek media reported on Thursday (19 March).

14-day quarantine and shutdown

The Greek government has decided to shut down commercial stores in addition to schools, cinemas, bars and restaurants, in response to the escalating coronavirus outbreak. It has also announced that people who enter the Greek territory will be put in a 14-day quarantine.

“As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has repeatedly pointed out, the difficult times are still ahead of us, next month will be very tough, seriousness, accountability and restraint will be needed,” Greek government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said on Monday (16 March).

The extraordinary measures come after there have been 331 coronavirus cases and four deaths. The authorities expect this number to grow dramatically in the next month and urges citizens on a daily basis to strictly comply with the measures as well as faithfully follow the advice of experts.

Greece tightens measures, all new arrivals will be quarantined

The Greek government has decided to shut down commercial stores in addition to schools, cinemas, bars and restaurants, in response to the escalating coronavirus outbreak. It has also announced that people who enter the Greek territory will be put in a 14-day quarantine.

At the same time Athens is betting heavily on the Eurogroup meeting which is expected to make “maximum” use of Europe’s Stability Pact flexibility.

The head of the Ministry of Health’s Coronavirus Committee Sotiris Tsiodras said most of the new cases are in Athens, while the ‘orphan’ cases are due to possible domestic transmission as they did not have contact with anyone travelling overseas.

“Next month will be very difficult and the cases will increase. So, we should keep them to a minimum. We will manage to do so,” Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Stricter measures in place

On Friday (13 March), the Greek government has decided to take stricter measures to tackle escalating coronavirus outbreak, resembling Belgium’s “lockdown” and are due to apply from Saturday onwards.

Meanwhile, 14 have been arrested for violations of measures put in place to limit the coronavirus epidemic.

Shopping centres, bars, cafes will be closed. In addition, all catering, except take away, sports facilities except open spaces for individual sports, beauty centres, libraries, museums and archaeological sites, will also be shut down as of Saturday (14 March), the ministry of health has announced.

Only grocery stores, bakeries, private health services and pharmacies will remain open.

“We will do whatever it takes, we will take whatever measures are needed to protect our fellow human beings,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Friday (13 March).

Greece said on Saturday (14 March) it will also ban all flights that were still operating to and from Italy until March 29, excluding cargo and sanitary ones.

Athens eyes Eurogroup

Greek minister of economy Christos Staikouras said today the impact of the crisis on the economy would be greater than the government had anticipated. The minister added that the government will soon decide on the suspension of payments of tax and insurance liabilities for businesses.

Athens bets heavily on the Eurogroup meeting tomorrow (15 March) which is expected to make “maximum” use of Europe’s Stability Pact flexibility.

Particularly, Greece will push for the exemption of refugee costs and those related to the treatment of coronavirus from the primary surplus and the reduction of the primary surplus in general.

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