My fellow citizens,
For months now, our country, along with the whole world, has been fighting against an invisible and insidious enemy. We took unprecedented measures to limit its spread. As a society, we have accepted the need to paralyse all economic activities in order to save human lives. We stayed away from people we love in order to protect them. We did not go to our churches. And we stayed home, following experts’ advice. We have shown, indeed you have shown, unprecedented responsibility and solidarity. Thus, individual conduct became a collective success. And the bonds between the State and the citizens were framed by reforms that once seemed distant or even impossible; a Digital Public Administration that works in a quick, simple and easy manner; distance working and learning; a better National Health System; and a Civil Protection office that proved to stand by our side in all our needs. All of this was not a product of luck, but of hard work. We owe these great successes to many everyday heroes, responding to the call of responsibility. These heroes are each and every one of you. Thank you for setting our country as example for others to follow around the world.
Today, we can safely say that the measures undertaken have proved successful. Data cannot be disputed: for days now, new cases have been kept to a minimum. However, the most important fact is the steady decline in Coronavirus patients in hospitals, as well as the decline in the number of our fellow citizens who are intubated in the Intensive Care Units.
I want to express my support to the families who lost their loved ones. Their pain is not eased by the fact that in Greece we had far fewer victims than in almost any other European country. As we have hindered the first wave of the virus, we are now ready to move on to the second phase of our plan: the gradual de-escalation of the measures, as today we stand more prepared than three months ago. We can conduct more tests. This means that we can quickly identify possible new outbreaks of the virus. The Civil Protection is further reinforced to track any contacts quickly and efficiently. And our hospitals have more medical and nursing staff; more and better equipment; greater experience; and better organisation. However, we have two more allies: good weather, which will allow us to spend more time outdoors and, most importantly, fully conscious and informed citizens, who now know what to do and what not to do. We show meticulous respect for individual hygiene measures. We do not shake hands. We keep our distance. We take special care of our vulnerable fellow citizens. And we stay indoors if we have any symptoms of cough or fever, informing our doctor accordingly. We listen to experts’ advice concerning the use of protective mask. They may cover some of our facial features. However, this will signify that we are serious in demonstrating responsibility. All these things must become second nature, because there is no return to “pre-coronavirus reality”. We are already living differently.
We are preparing for the second stage of our plan. Beware though: this is not an epilogue to this misadventure, but a sequel. I will repeat it once again: the exit from the quarantine will be carried out step by step. No one can rule out the possible resurgence of the threat. Our goal will be to locate it quickly, so that any new restrictions remain local and do not affect the whole territory. Our plan for the next two months is extremely detailed and elaborate. But this is what the word “plan” means. Therefore, our plan will be subject to revisions, depending on the developments and the instructions of experts. Citizen discipline alone will be the decisive factor that will determine its success.
Some principles, however, remain non-negotiable. My priority has been and remains the life and health of the Greek people. My choice is that every decision bears the stamp of scientific knowledge. And citizens should be informed in absolute transparency, honesty and accountability. I trusted you and, in turn, you trusted not only me, but also the Greek State. Which is, after all, our collective state. And as we move into the second phase, these bonds of trust must be kept intact. May is not March. Back then, we had to defend our health and save lives by staying home. But now we are called to return, methodically and gradually, to some of our familiar activities. So our new slogan is “We Stay Safe”. We go out of our homes, but remain always responsible.
My dear fellow citizens,
Following the suggestions of the Scientific Committee, today I can announce the axes of a “safe transition” to our new everyday life: from next Monday, May 4, restrictions on the movement of citizens shall be lifted. In other words, written permission and respective SMS will be removed. However, traffic restrictions outside our prefecture will stay in place for at least two more weeks. Individual physical exercise will be allowed in open areas and near the sea. But organised beaches will remain closed. Some types of stores and services will open on the same day. Here are some indicative examples: bookstores, electrical appliances stores, Roadworthiness Test Centres and sport stores. Also, hair salons, but always by appointment. The rest of the retail sector will open on Monday, May 11, with the exception of shopping malls. The latter will open on June 1. In all stores, of course, specific measures will apply to limit the density of visitors. Strict measures will be taken to protect employees.
Please allow me to refer briefly to the Church. I would like to thank the Archbishop and the clergy for their understanding and cooperation. The experience of this year’s Easter was not easy for any of us. However, it turned out necessary for everyone. From May 4, the churches will be open for individual worship. And from Sunday, May 17, the faithful will be able to attend mass and other services. But always under strict rules, which will be agreed upon with the Holy Synod and the scientific community.
With regards to the Education, classes of the third grade of the upper secondary education will resume on May 11. One week later, other High School classes will follow. However, schools will operate following different rules, aiming to reduce any interaction to the extent possible. Distance learning will continue to support children who, for special reasons, should not come to class. Primary schools and kindergartens will remain closed. I repeat that they may open on June 1, and only under the condition that we are absolutely sure that the course of the epidemic is going downhill. Tomorrow, the Minister of Education will make a more detailed briefing. She is in constant consultation with the Committee of Scientists for the best possible implementation of the protection measures for our children and teachers.
On June 1, catering sector activity will resume, under the conditions, which will have been agreed upon by then. On the same day year-round hotels will open. Following, the second stage of judicial activities will operate. Finally, in June and depending on the developments, all pending economic activities will be gradually released. However, it is unlikely that big gatherings, such as festivals, concerts or sporting events with spectators, will be allowed during the summer. It has now become clear that the programme for the next phase is fully deliberated. The programme will be put in place gradually per week and evaluated every 24 hours by a joint Government Observatory on Health and Civil Protection Services.
My fellow citizens,
Any details of the transition plan will be announced shortly thereafter. Moreover, each Ministry has elaborated individual business plans, as adjustments will follow in the whole public sector. For example, working from home and online citizen services need to be expanded. Hospital operation should return to normal conditions, so that all current incidents can be covered more effectively. At the same time, employee arrival times will be modified, to avoid overcrowding in workplaces, but also in means of public transport. The latter’s routes will also become more regular over the rush hour, aiming to carry fewer passengers.
The key to success, however, will once again be our individual discipline, responsibility, trust in the instructions of experts. The result we have achieved so far is great. But it is still fragile. Going back to our lives and jobs is harder than staying home. That is why the role of personal responsibility will increase along the course of the ease of restrictions. The slogan “Stay Home” remains in force. We do not leave home without reason. We stay safe. Because our return should not lead to backslide, but to a reasoned and calculated comeback instead. So far, an effective State has risen up against the pandemic, protecting the Greek people and gaining their trust. The Greek people, in turn, have done their best; respecting the instructions, disciplining to the measures and protecting their health and the health of their loved ones. These assets constitute a guarantee for tomorrow. Because they mobilised valuable traits of our people that had remained inactive for years, but also offered a new quality to our populism-threatened Democracy. Think about it, in the realm of politics, reservations and old suspicions have been dispelled. Now Greek men and women are listening to the representatives of the State, knowing that they will also be heard by the latter. In the sphere of social life, Law was consciously observed, without fear of punishment. And silent people were the protagonists, as their actions became vivid examples for all to see. I think we all personally reconsidered our role in the whole. We were restrained but not separated. I would say that we rediscovered each other and were mobilised. The Coronavirus also taught us that friendship goes beyond a handshake; caring goes beyond a hug; that everything, after all, can find new ways of expression in the midst of an unprecedented situation. Because indeed, on May 4, we will all meet a new everyday life. And if that is managed maturely, then we will improve it gradually to make it ever better.
The virus will live among us until Science finds applicable vaccination and effective treatment. We cannot avoid that some people will contract the virus. It is up to us to make their number as small as possible and to provide the sick with the care they need. So, closing our front door behind us opens up the door of responsibility at the same time. We will move on from patience to perseverance. And from endurance, to attention. Because this is the only way to reduce the risk.
My fellow citizens,
Of course, in the upcoming period, difficulties are lurking in the health and financial sector alike. The prolonged “freezing” of the latter has a social dimension as well, because it also “freezes” injustices that primarily affect the weakest. Gradual restart, therefore, is the duty of every responsible Government. No one denies that a deep and global crisis will follow the Coronavirus. And as the pandemic strikes everyone, all of us will have to bear the weight of its consequences. But we will manage this fairly, armed with truth and realism. However, I will talk in detail on all this in Parliament soon. In the meantime, the State and the citizens alike must continue the war against this invisible enemy, who will wait to strike upon signs of even the slightest complacency. This is why the officials in charge will continue the daily briefing. And the State will remain on permanent alert. A new optimism has developed in view of the last challenge. A renewed national confidence. I am confident that our society will respond responsibly and seriously to the new challenge that lies ahead. Namely, in the smooth, safe and gradual return to a more familiar way of life. As we said, we return, but we remain careful. Above all, We Remain Safe.
It is up to us to make it happen.