By Ilias Karagiannis.
The pandemic has spread an ominous feeling over the planet for about 1.5 years. The confrontation with the unknown hung many times by a thread and fear took over all of us to the last blood cell.
To this unprecedented situation, Greece managed to respond effectively despite expressed fears about the collapse of the National Health System.
The biggest part of the success in this endurance race with the COVID-19 disease is shared with the Greek Minister of Health, Vassilis Kikilias. Former basketball athlete, during his great sports career, Kikilias studied medicine “shattering” the stereotypes of many years for the cultivation of athletes.
Mr. Kikilias was called to provide his services during the most difficult situation that the country experienced after the war and admittedly he responded with great success together with his team.
Today, he speaks exclusively to The Greek Herald and reveals to us the great love he has for expatriate Greeks. “We listen to their needs and make every effort to satisfy them,” he says, while offering a glimmer of optimism.
“We now see light at the end of the tunnel,” he tells us and underlines the “loyalty” shown by the Greeks in the observance of measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
He also talks about the Sydney-born infectious disease specialist, Sotiris Tsiodras, to whom, as he reveals: “I owe him, we all owe him, a lot.”
The interview with The Greek Herald begins with an overall assessment of the last 15 months at the helm of the Ministry of Health.
“The National Health System has withstood, withstands and will continue to withstand, in the face of the most severe pandemic that the planet has faced,” says Mr. Kikilias.
“We have fought and continue to fight the battle for the value of human life. From the first moment of the spread of the coronavirus, we set a goal: not to leave any of our fellow citizens without the necessary care, not only for COVID, but for all the diseases.
“We achieved this with the cooperation of all: the hospitals of National Health System, the military hospitals, the private clinics. We have managed to open more than 1,500 ICU beds across the country when in July 2019 we only received 557. We hired over 10.000 health workers, in the pandemic, of which over 4.000 nurses will be permanent.
“All this was done in a National Health System, which was not in good condition.”
The success of the Operation “Freedom” and Philotimo:
With the concern for a next wave of the pandemic constantly present, vaccination is the only “weapon” to build the coveted wall of immunity.
“The success of Operation “Freedom” was achieved by the full readiness of the state apparatus and of course doctors, nurses and all our health workers in the vaccination centres who give their best every day,” stressed the Minister of Health.
“Therefore, yes, I believe, on the basis of planning – that by summer we will have managed to build a satisfactory “wall of immunity”.”
Enough has been said about the response of the Greeks to the restrictive measures taken to prevent the spread of the pandemic. We asked Mr. Kikilias if he himself was satisfied.
“The 15 months of the pandemic are a very long period of time. It is very painful and soul-destroying for anyone – especially for young people who “boil their blood” – to stay for over 1 year in their homes,” Mr. Kikilias said.
“Nevertheless, in Greece the people, in their vast majority, adhered to the measures. And I want once again to thank them for this.
“The keyword that answers your question is what the Greeks call “filotimo”.
“The Greek did not discipline because there was the “Damocles Sword” of checks and fines, but to protect, not so much himself, but his loved ones. His grandfather and grandmother, his parents, those who suffered from diseases that made them even more vulnerable to the virus. Therefore, yes, I am very pleased with my fellow citizens.
“Surely the history of the world has confirmed that in conditions of crises are countries, small in size and weak economically, are making “jumps” in the “corridor” of their route.”
The constant war and the needs of Greek expatriates:
But what was the most difficult moment in this pandemic marathon for Mr. Kikilias?
“Our confrontation with the pandemic was not a battle. It was and still is a perpetual war. Therefore, the hard times and the moments when I said “We made it” succeeded each other. But the fight continues,” Mr Kikilias explained to The Greek Herald.
“That is why we are now proceeding with the implementation of a program at a cost of 1.7 million euros aimed at supporting and empowering all these heroes of the pandemic, through interventions such as medical and laboratory tests, development of individual and group protocols by psychologists, etc.
“The health crisis seems to be slowly coming to an end, but we do not forget that the vision of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was and continues to be the building of a better, modern and quality National Health System, which had deteriorated during the previous years of the economic crisis.”
It would be remiss not to mention to the Minister of Health, although he is not the responsible Minister, about the great problem of the Greek Australians. The fact that the federal government keeps international borders closed deprives many expats of the ability to visit their ancestral land. We asked if Greece could take the initiative on this issue.
“I mentioned earlier that all Greeks in every corner of the country and the whole world were forced to make huge sacrifices throughout this period of the pandemic. We stayed away from our loved ones, away from the beauties of our village that we went to every Christmas, Easter and summer, away from our homeland. For expatriate Greeks, perhaps this is the most painful.
“Now we see light at the end of the tunnel.
“From that point on, you are well aware of the love I have for Greeks abroad. As a government we listen to their needs and make every effort to satisfy them.”
Popularity, Tsiodras and the new member of the family:
For most politicians the Ministry of Health during the pandemic would be the tombstone of their ambitions. In this case Vassilis Kikilias increased his popularity and today he is one of the most beloved politicians in Greece. What does this mean for the Minister of Health?
“Popularity is by no means a purpose. My goal is to offer to the best of my ability to my country, to all Greeks, regardless of their political belonging. Not to increase my popularity just to have a ministerial post or to reap votes in the next elections,” Mr Kikilias said.
We could not forget the contribution of Sydney-born Sotiris Tsiodras to the management of the pandemic. Dr Tsidras was said to have been proposed by Mr Kikilias to the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“All of us, each from his own fortified battle position, offered to deal with the pandemic. But if the pandemic were a book, Sotiris Tsiodras would be a special and very beautiful, moving chapter. I owe him, we all owe him, a lot”.
During the pandemic, at the peak of the crisis, the Minister of Health became a father. A glimmer of light in the darkness.
“Birth symbolises hope. And yes the birth of my son gave me, and continues to give me, energy and hope.
“And yes in a few years I will be able to tell him by looking into the eyes that I never gave up on anyone, and that we fought with all our might. Daily, for the best possible outcome…” concludes, in his exclusive interview with The Greek Herald, the Greek Minister of Health, Vassilis Kikilias.