Greece and the pandemic: health system collapsed, media silenced, artists on hold
“No one will stop me from going to Crete during the Easter holidays,” the sister of the Greek prime minister, MP and former minister Dora Bakojanis said in an interview with television station SKAI.
When asked by a reporter if this was the case for all citizens, she added: ‘God has an advantage’
Bakojanis, the 66-year-old daughter of the conservative New Democracy ideologue, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who once also mayored Athens, has shown indidifferently that there are two kinds of citizens in Greece; the political rich elite and everyone else.
After five months of closure, status inequality is mirrored in Greek society: the epidemic has become a battle for survival justified by the Mitsotakis government tightening repressive control, concealing the adoption of school, energy and economic reforms and openly attacking critics.
“The media that support the government, especially private television stations, portrays a parallel world that has nothing in common with Greece,” explains an Athens journalist, Tony Rigoropoulos.
This week, Greece recorded the highest number of cases in a single day since the outbreak began: over 4,000 infections. On the other hand, the Mitsotakis government decided on an unusual move: loosening measures, gradually opening shops and schools and introducing them. self-tests, which should be the responsibility for infection now passed on to the individual. One free test per week will be provided to citizens who have regulated health insurance. Greece is set to become the first European country to introduce this type of virus control.
“Due to increased testing, we can expect about tens of thousands of infected people a day from Monday onwards. Positive citizens will have to isolate themselves,” the journalists of private station MEGA, who act as a kind of government epidemiological expert, have been exalysing a new approach to the epidemic.
The government’s new policy represents new media rhetoric that haunted the threat of an epidemic and a “war in hospitals” last week.
The Greeks will enter freedom from next week. What reality awaits them?
“The government’s actions are pointless”
“You are entering the hospital at your own risk. There is a possibility of co-envy in all departments,” the security guard explains before we enter one of Athens’ largest general hospitals, Genimata. Kovid department alone in building number two, where all doors are specifically marked: “Attention! Strictly forbidden entry.” There’s silence in the department, and there’s a lot of work to be heard behind the metal doors. Rare medical personnel walk through long grey corridors in blue protective gear.
The situation is reminiscent of post-apocalyptic scenes.
“We are currently treating 200 infected patients, 17 of them in intensive care. There is a transformation of another surgery department in preparation,” explains the doctor, Argiri Erotokritu. The young doctor seems exhausted. He’s quick to sip coffee and looks nervously towards the hospital. Today, Erotokritu will remain in service for 18 hours.
“I currently have two cases in my department where patients urgently need intensive care. There are no free beds,” explains the doctor, who has been fighting the virus in the front row since the outbreak began. These two patients are going to lose their lives in the next few days. There’s nothing we can do,” she adds.
For some time, the authorities in favour of private health care have been covering up the state of the public, which the current government has been starving for years with austerity cuts and the dismissal of medical staff.
Over the course of the epidemic, Mitsotakis’s government came up with the idea that instead of young doctors on hold, it would force 200 private doctors, epidemiologists, to come for a month to help colleagues in public hospitals.
“The measures are completely pointless. Some doctors haven’t worked in hospitals for 20 years. They can’t help us. We have five such doctors, and they are over 50 years old and so unfit to work with covid patients,” explains Erotokritu. We urgently need healthy medical staff. We urgently need more intensive care units, or wards where we can redirect our patients to private hospitals,” the solutions suggest.
She explains that public hospitals currently have demands for 30,000 doctors and health professionals, while on the other hand, adequate staff are on hold.
“People are dying of cancer, stroke, and other diseases that are not currently being treated.” They’re dying at home, or they come here when it’s too late and they’re left with difficult consequences,” the young doctor explains, “the side effects of the epidemic.”
“We’re overwhelmed. In my department: five doctors care for 70 patients, three medical nurses deal with 30 cases,” he adds, explaining: “We work in situations that are dangerous for us and for patients.”
The media played a role in the course of the epidemic, as in the rest of the world.
An illustration of an alarming state, inadequate health measures, the collapse of public health, the influential media that closely support the government has long been obscured. Critics, on the other hand, tried to silence Mistotakis’ government by arresting and harassing them.
Arrests of journalists
Tony Rigoropoulos sits in the editorial board of the Athens newspaper and web portal, Documento.
“Since the epidemic began, our work has been extremely difficult,” explains a reporter from one of the country’s most critical and influential media outlets. Their disclosures about the corruption dealings of the current government, the repression of police authorities on the instructions of the ministry and the collapse of public health, even cost the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Koss Vaxivis, of threats of arrest.
“For decades, the Greek media has been in the possession of oligarchs and wealthy shipowners who, in connection with the New Democracy, which now also leads the country to full control of the media sphere,” Rigopulos outlines. The media conglomerate includes all private broadcasters as well as the public medium, ERT.
“Colleagues from public radio-television ERT deal with constant censorship. As Mitsotakis set off for a holiday to the islands during the closure, journalists waited for a warning all over the walls of television: “We do not publish the Mitsotakis video in Ikaria,” Rigoropoulos recalls.