By Sarantis Michalopoulos
(EurActiv) — The Orthodox Church is refusing to implement new lockdown restrictions amid growing tensions with the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who for the first time in Greek politics has appointed a minister who has openly declared that he is gay.
The ruling New Democracy party decided to impose stricter lockdown measures for a week to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases after the Christmas holidays.
Hospitals in the country are still in the red while the pandemic has cost more than 4,000 lives.
However, the Greek Orthodox Church has decided to ignore the new restrictions, saying its doors will remain open for people to celebrate Epiphany, a Christian feast day.
The Orthodox Church even threatens to take a step further if the government does not back down by filing an appeal to the Council of State.
In response, the government, which has traditionally close ties with the Church, said the law on coronavirus protection measures does not apply at will.
“We hope that the Church will realise the urgency of the moment for society, as it has done so far responsibly. The implementation of prevention and precautionary measures is an obligation but also an act of social solidarity and responsibility for all of us,” the government said in a statement.
Some priests across the country have openly questioned the existence of COVID-19 or the safety of vaccines while others have publicly called on people to respect confinement measures, pointing to the health risks posed by the virus.
Mini reshuffle with first gay minister
Meanwhile, Mitsotakis decided on Monday to reshuffle his cabinet.
All technocrats in the government were removed and replaced by politicians mostly belonging to the right faction of the ruling conservative party.
The opposition accused the Greek leader of making a turn to the right and suggested he was paving the way for snap elections.
“Trapped in his failure, Mitsotakis proceeded with a reshuffle fiasco,” leftist Syriza (European Left) spokesperson Nasos Iliopoulos said in a statement, adding that the ministers who mishandled the pandemic crisis remained in their posts.
The socialist Movement of Change party said the so-called “new beginning” in reality strengthens the right faction of New Democracy party.
“It is an exercise of party balance,” it said.
In a sudden move, Mitsotakis named the country’s first openly gay minister, Nicholas Yatromanolakis, a known 44-year-old defender of LGBT rights.