My fellow citizens,
I address you again, for the second time within a few days, in view of the Coronavirus threat. Because this pandemic is causing thousands of deaths in many countries as it continues spreading; as well as the first serious casualties in our country.
So at times like this – when there seems not to be enough time to encompass all what is going on – I choose to communicate with you more often. And to inform you personally on the new data, on the decisions and the plans we make; always speaking the truth and with constant guidance from the advice of experts.
We are at war. With an enemy that is invisible, but not invincible. Because if we manage to limit transmission, we will give our Health System the time necessary to deal with emergencies.
Our first priority is non-negotiable: it is to save lives. Our first concern is public health. This is why we have imposed measures unprecedented for a period of peace, far earlier than other European countries. And we shall continue forward in that direction.
The stores will be closed from tomorrow on, with the exception of those selling goods or offering essential services. The public sector has already redeployed its forces, by means of adopting new technological applications to protect vulnerable groups of the population. Businesses do the same, thanks to e-commerce.
We had three goals from the beginning and they remain the same as this war goes on; first, to limit the spread of the virus; to strengthen the Health System; and to provide support for the economy and the workers. I shall start from the latter.
Just yesterday, Eurogroup decided the abolishment for this year of the 3.5% primary surplus target. All expenses related to health and immigration crisis will not be included in the 2020 budget. To name some examples, the extraordinary social budget expenditures for the unemployed, the poor and the welfare structures.
We will also be able to allocate the NSRF resources for market and labour immediately and without additional bureaucracy. Practically, and in the first instance, the Government will allocate 2 billion euros to support production activities that are currently facing problems due to turnover reductions. Moreover, the State, not businesses, shall undertake to pay part of the wages of the workers in the sectors affected. In addition, all tax and insurance obligations shall be suspended, while we enact extraordinary measures that offer maximum flexibility to save jobs.
We are also coordinating with the Bank of Greece and the European Central Bank to prevent a new generation of bad loans. Namely, the State shall cover the cost of borrowing rates and, in turn, banks shall suspend debt payments for businesses that usually meet their financial obligations until September.
What we want is to save jobs. And I urge businesses not to make employees redundant. Because we will undertake measures to stimulate liquidity and help businesses withstand this misadventure.
I will shortly be attending the European Union videoconference with the aim to broaden the scope for government action. But also to convey the message that we must overcome this crisis united and at a cost that will be shared fairly across society, in the public and private sectors alike, and with the practical support of the European Union.
We will fight under this banner. That too is facilitated by the new drastic measures we have undertaken, which will be further defined tomorrow by the Ministers of Finance, Development and Labor.
On the Health front, 2,000 nurses are hired and employed directly. Starting today, the NIMTS hospital will be transformed into a Coronavirus Nursing Centre. The newly built private Attica Clinic in Thriasio will be commandeered for the same purpose. A total of 1,900 new beds will be offered to the Health System. I wish we would not need them all… But that, as I mentioned, depends on us all.
We stand now at the beginning of a battle, which will become challenging, especially in the two coming months. The General Secretariat for Civil Protection is now coordinating the battle, and all public services are directed accordingly.
That is why the Secretary General for Civil Protection, Nikos Chardalias, has already been appointed Deputy Minister, with the special responsibility to tackle the pandemic. Every afternoon at 18:00, Nikos Chardalias and Sotiris Tsiodras, the Infectious Diseases Specialist and Chief Scientist for the Greek CDC, will be informing the citizens responsibly together.
But nothing could be achieved without the dedication of our staff. The people fighting at the frontline of our hospital deserve all the help they can get. They are heroes in white and green shirts. The same applies to our Civil Protection executives and our police and armed forces, who sacrifice themselves for the welfare, day and night. I thank them, I thank you, on behalf of all Greeks. Public applaud and is not enough, a lot more is still due. And I will take care of that personally.
The biggest weapon against the coronavirus remains our attitude daily. The virus is transmitted through contact, and that is exactly what we have to adjust to. After all, the doctors tell us: “We stand for you in the hospitals. And you have to stay home for us.” And they advise us: “Do not behave as if you are healthy, who stay indoors to avoid getting sick. Think differently, as if you already had the virus and should not pass it on to others.”
Gatherings are the biggest pitfalls. That’s why we ban them. So we stay at home. What was once called cocooning and became a trend for young people, is a now a need and duty for all citizens. Let us be alone, but not lonely! Protected, not besieged! And isolated, but not alienated. Because we are called upon to change our habits, not our culture. In other words, to build a new society based on responsibility.
Our primary concern remains to safeguard our elderly and vulnerable groups. And that responsibility lies with everyone, especially the younger people. Be careful: you are most likely to get mild or no symptoms at all. However, by moving around unnecessarily, you are also transmitting the virus around, threatening your parents and grandparents. And you also place yourself at risk, because hospitals are flooding with increasing numbers of patients. This means that if you happen to have an accident tomorrow, to fall off your bike for instance, there will be no space for you in an Intensive Care Unit. Consequently, carelessness is not resistance, it is not bravado or wit. It is just irresponsibility.
To my compatriots everywhere in Greece: in the next two months the risk will increase. That is why new restrictions will follow. And we all need comply.
Those who act antisocially will be exemplary punished, because they would have committed a double crime: against the Law and against life. The same is true for those who spread misinformation through unsubstantiated rumours. Panic is just as dangerous as the disease.
People may not ask “where is the State” if they lose their responsibility and humanity first. The State and doctors now have the first and only say.
In the world today there are two political and ethical approaches to tackle the pandemic.
The first views the threat against public health in the light of the economy, and argues that the economy should be supported notwithstanding whatever casualties occur in the interim. It is the choice of States to refuse to take drastic measures, although some are now starting to rethink this approach. But they do not cease to treat humans as numbers that will survive in time and through the so-called “herd immunity”.
The second approach prioritises the public health, regardless of the cost incurred. It recognises that the day after will be difficult, perhaps even nightmarish. After all, everyone is talking about “war conditions”. Therefore, the economy must also be treated as a “war economy”. What we are experiencing is not 15 days of relaxed vacations; we cannot expect to return to our previous lives, as if nothing had happened.
This approach, therefore, entails many drastic measures. It relies on the discipline of citizens to confine the pandemic, which will definitely result in victims. But whatever the consequences may be, what this approach needs most is healthy people to rebuild the ruins.
And that is exactly my choice.
So my first concern is the people. Every Greek, man, woman and child, everyone individually. For their lives and health I will bear all costs!
My fellow citizens,
The Government remains standing in view of its duty. But, believe me, victory will only come if all of us -every each one individual- act as disciplined soldiers in this “war of life”. Because the enemy is invisible and insidious. So stay safe, stay home!
Science is working hard and will eventually discover the remedy against this pandemic. We will not escape unscratched. But we need to emerge stronger. Admittedly with losses for our economy, but with the power to rebuild what was lost.
And we will emerge bearing the values of a new social identity. An identity born out of extraordinary circumstances, but one that will quickly become the driving force for the day after.
Above all else, this challenge invites us to show our individual responsibility; to show our bravery and our collective strength; to show our “philotimo”, namely our dignity and honour. This is a value we often allude to, but now it’s high time to demonstrate in a tangible way in our everyday lives.
Thus armed and united – we will succeed. The Greeks will emerge victorious once again!