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The American College of Greece: Public Health, the Greek Economy and Political Liberty: Balance, Priorities and Policies in the Age of Pandemics

Thought leaders from various fields exchanged views in a captivating panel discussion organized by the ACG Institute for Hellenic Growth & Prosperity

In an effort to foster conversation about how public policy can ensure balance between the demands of health, economic prosperity and political liberty – a prerequisite in order not only to face present challenges but also to prepare western societies for potential future pandemic crises – the ACG Institute for Hellenic Growth & Prosperity  presented a group of thought leaders from fields that must communicate and cooperate in order to protect individual, social and cultural health. In the virtual panel discussion titled “Public Health, the Greek Economy and Political Liberty: Balance, Priorities and Policies in the Age of Pandemics” that took place in the framework of the ACG 150 plan, top experts in public policy, health and business vividly discussed challenges, opportunities and prospects in all three fields.

Following the welcome remarks by Vice President for Public Affairs of The American College of Greece, Claudia Carydis and President of The American College of Greece, Dr. David G. Horner and the introduction by the event’s moderator, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Executive Director at the ACG Institute for Hellenic Culture & the Liberal Arts Prof. Loren J. Samons II, the discussion opened with a pre-recorded keynote statement by the Deputy Minister of Labor & Social Affairs, Dr. Domna Michailidou. Panel participants included Professor Emeritus of Constitutional Law at the University of Athens, Nicos Alivizatos, Honorary President of SETE and CEO & co-Managing Partner Sani/Ikos Group, Dr. Andreas Andreadis, Professor of Genetics at the University of Geneva and Director of Health 2030 Genome Center and of the Institute of Genetics and Genomics of Geneva, Emmanouil Dermitzakis, Big Pi Ventures Partner, Aristos Doxiadis and Epidemiologist, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Harris Pastides.

In her statement, Deputy Minister Domna Michailidou described the key measures that the Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs has taken in order to alleviate the negative impact of the pandemic: Supporting employment, wages and the labor market as well as taking action for the support of less advantaged citizens. “In order to combat growing inequalities across different income, age and gender groups, we have adopted a scheme that allows citizens to remain at home while being able to use public services” Dr. Michailidou said, adding that the government has provided emergency benefits to the low income households, has designed special purpose leaves for those with dependents and has implemented the strictest protocols and mechanisms to monitor and protect indivisuals hosted in private and public care facilities. “In 2021, we will be extending our social safety net with both passive and active policy actions and activities. We have increased our social safety budget by ¼, we will be setting out the 2 billion euro plan for social policy funded by the Recovery and Resilience Fund and we will be implementing a bundle of measures focusing on child protection, poverty alleviation and disability inclusion to further support citizens, curb inequalities and improve the welfare”.

Taking the floor, Prof. Alivizatos stressed that during the pandemic, there has been “quick reaction in terms of urgent legislation and government action aiming not only to slow down the spreading of the virus and assist the disadvantaged but also to enhance research, expand health systems and strengthen infrastructures. The production of at least 4 different vaccines in less than a year’s time was the most spectacular yet not the unique achievement of that preparedness. In a way, Covid-19 has helped the revival of the welfare State”. However, the death toll remains too high, Prof. Alivizatos underlined, urging the need of international cooperation for the purpose of establishing a powerful global system to monitor and prevent pandemics. In addition, he emphasized on the importance of undertaking specific measures to safeguard digital infrastructure at a global scale, protecting citizens’ data worldwide. “At the national level, the most obvious lesson of the current pandemic is that more investments are needed to strengthen public health systems” he added. At the local level, in societies like ours that privilege compassion over rational thinking and slogans over well-articulated arguments the magic words are two: Solidarity and volunteerism”, he concluded.

Dr. Andreas Andreadis highlighted that the pandemic reminded how vulnerable the tourism business can be and how much the sector depends on the right policies, on prevention tools, on the investment in health, on proper governance and global cooperation. According to Dr. Andreadis, the recovery of tourism will depend on the global pace of vaccination, advances in medical treatments and a cooperation in an international level, with the latter remaining to be seen. “The balance of decision making in this pandemic was certainly not found. Some countries disregarded risks and solidarity did not show up” he said, suggesting that countries in the South of the EU including Greece welcomed open borders while the Northern countries, which extract tourists, did not do so. “This difference in vision is still there and it is very disappointing to see that”, he noted. Dr. Andreadis foresees “seismic changes” in the tourism business with some sectors (i.e. conference tourism, cruises) recovering in long term and others recovering (i.e. leisure) much faster. Finally, Dr. Andreadis highlighted the importance of the tourism business investing in sustainability and in becoming environmentally friendly.

From his part, Prof. Emmanouil Dermitzakis highlighted how the concept of scientific research has entered everyone’s lives. However, as Prof. Dermitzakis describes, this familiarity has also exposed weaknesses and has led in some cases to the disregard of scientific opinions as they have become extremely open to criticism. Another aspect that is worth noting, according to Prof. Dermitzakis, is the different approaches in different societies, as some tend to prioritize economic viability over health risks. He also underlined the variety in responses from different countries, stressing that despite their initial failures, the US and the UK appear now to be in a better position than the EU thanks to the development of vaccines and the quicker pace of the population’s vaccination. “Vaccination is a key weapon here”, he underlined. “It is going to make a big difference if we have vaccinations in very high or very low levels over the next 6 months”.

Very rapid adoption of distant solutions and digital practices in many walks of life has been a silver lightning seen during the pandemic according to Aristos Doxiadis. Giving a more positive note, Mr. Doxiadis also highlighted the acceleration of the developments in the medical field, including vaccines, treatments and the proliferation of “point of need” diagnostics – “cheap technology devices anyone can use to diagnose a disease, even in the remotest village”. “In the end, these developments are going to mean better health at lower cost, smart spending rather than more and more spending”, he stressed. The third silver lightning according to Mr. Doxiadis has been Brain Regain, meaning that highly skilled Greek migrants are coming back to Greece and working remotely. “This development can be a great benefit to our innovation ecosystem or more broadly to what is called the knowledge economy”.

“Public health has always been a villain within society. On the one hand, we are praised for science, research, and technology and on the other hand we are the culprits for constraining liberties, whether it is travel or social distancing”, noted Dr. Harris Pastides. “Public health can cry out loud what people should do. But the only way to do better is to educate and to engage the public and have trustworthy leadership” he underlined. In his conclusion, Dr. Pastides emphasized on how all countries and all social groups are linked in the face of the pandemic. “We are all brothers and sisters across boundaries and across borders”, he noted.

You can watch the full panel discussion here.