Greece is introducing hefty fines for non-vaccinated people aged 60 and over, as pressure mounts on the Greek state health system. The decision is sparking debate about civil liberties and liberties in the country that gave birth to Western-style democracy.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appeared clearly concerned when announcing the mandate after an urgent cabinet meeting.
Mitsotakis said he could not hide that he – in his words – was personally troubled by the decision-making. But, he explained, he was ultimately forced to do so to protect the most vulnerable—even if it meant harassing them.
Under the new rules, Greeks over the age of 60 will have to be vaccinated or pay a fine of $113, which the country’s tax authorities have been authorized to implement and collect from next month.
As of early Wednesday, Greece had not yet reported a case of the Omicron variant, but COVID-19 infections have reached record highs despite recent measures that allowed unvaccinated people to visit indoor restaurants, gyms and theatres. Includes a ban on entry.
As disturbing as the new mandate may be for some Greeks, Mitsotakis said it does not amount to punishment. The Greek leader said the decision was aimed at making senior citizens aware.
He said he had no doubt that it would help in saving many lives.
About 63 percent of Greece’s population of eleven million are fully vaccinated, which is well below the EU average of about 66 percent.
With the Omicron version widespread across the continent, government officials tell VOA, Mitsotakis’s decision was part of a last-ditch effort to avoid another nationwide lockdown – a move that could hurt the country’s already vulnerable economy. .
As political analyst Vasilis Chiotis explains.
Chiotis says this is a message to key sectors of the Greek economy and society, from tourism to the Orthodox Church and its millions of followers, in line with the government’s call for vaccinations to avert the possibility of a lockdown.
Austria last week became the first Western democracy to make vaccinations mandatory for all who are eligible. Those who do not receive the shot by the February deadline face fines of up to $4,000 and possible jail time.
Opposition parties have criticized Greece’s decision to impose fines on violators. He says the government should have exhausted other options before threatening to fine the senior citizens with meager pension.
Vaccine opponents say the move is a violation of their civil liberties. Speaking on Greek television, this unnamed middle-aged Athens resident, among others, said the new mandate was long overdue
She says it is a health crisis and maintaining democratic values does not mean that people should behave recklessly at the expense of others. He says that this will be a wrong interpretation of democracy.
It is unclear whether the vaccine mandate will be effective, but officials see cause for optimism. Within hours of the Greek leader announcing the fine, health officials said vaccination requests had tripled to six thousand.