In the near future, we will remember the year 2020 for all the implications it has had on our lives. It will be remembered for both absurdity and common sense.
In Athens, Christmas is celebrated discreetly. In Greece, as in other Orthodox countries, the biggest celebration takes place around Easter.
Even so, there is Christmas. There are exchanges of gifts and families also get together. This year, however, and as in most Western countries, everything is different.
A big part of the businesses, by order of the Government, have been closed since mid-November. Restaurants and cafés can only operate on a take-away basis. Schools have also closed and there is a “curfew” between 10 pm and 5 am.
Greece, which seemed to have been spared in the first wave of Covid-19, and where we lived in apparent normality all summer, now faces a deadly second wave, already exceeding 3600 dead. It is mainly in the northern part of the country, in Macedonia, that the main sources of contagion reside, but the measures cover the whole country and are more severe in the most affected areas.
In the days leading up to Christmas, merchants were “authorized” by the government to operate on an online or telephone sales basis, with collections at the door. Confusion set in. The rules of this measure are incomprehensible and inconsistent, just as the prohibition on selling products that are not “first necessities” is incomprehensible.
Government officials have decided that sales should proceed as follows:
1. The customer chooses the item. This choice can be made on the store’s website or in-person (in the storefront for example);
2. The customer makes payment by electronic means;
3. The shopkeeper sends an SMS confirming that he can pick up the item;
4. If you have not paid online, you can pay directly to the store owner, EXCLUSIVELY by credit card or electronic.
While walking on one of the streets, I decided to buy a pair of Christmas socks to offer. I chose some that were on display in the store window and asked the shopkeeper to put them in a gift bag. So far everything has worked normally and with the proper distance and hygiene. But it is when I intend to make the payment that comes to the fore how governments impose stupid and illogical measures beyond potentially illegal and unconstitutional.
Because I only brought money with me, I tried to pay for the purchase. The shopkeeper refused. He refused and even showed fear when seeing the ludicrous cash in my hands. He said that he can only accept cards because the government does not allow cash payments in this exceptional anti-covid “system”.
In addition, I would have to provide him with my cell phone number to “simulate” that the purchase had been made online, with the shopkeeper sending an SMS (with me right there in front of him) so I can go and pick-up the purchase. In other words, traders are obliged to “simulate” that they are open, and they have to find “smart” ways to get around the stupid rules imposed by the government. As I had no cards with me, I had to cancel the purchase and the merchant was left without another sale especially at this time of the year that it is irretrievably lost.
I tried to buy from other shops, and they all refused payment in cash, not for fear of Covid-19, but for fear of the absurdly high fines that inspectors and police are imposing on many businessmen and traders. Fines for being open, fines for selling unauthorized products like toys and kitchen appliances, fines for accepting money, fines for all tastes.
Similar situations occur in other countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are reports of businesses’ refusal to accept notes and coins as payment, which has left many people without access to essential goods. Pharmacies, supermarkets, sundries, demand electronic payments, prohibit physical money and citizens are at a loss as to what to do, especially the most vulnerable and less privileged classes without access to credit cards or bank accounts.
This is just one example of how the pandemic is being used to force disruptions in society. It is not a new topic. Governments have been trying for years to promote the idea of a “cashless” society in which all transactions are digital. I recall that in China, for example, it is not uncommon for fake money to come out of ATMs.
But, as in other times, it will be the citizens who will find alternatives and implement smart solutions to deal with the new realities. In more troubled times in the past, some cities and communities launched their own currencies, for example. There will always be a solution.
Though it remains unclear why some government officials are “putting pressure” on the most fragile layers of society, especially the elderly, who are already the main victims of Covid-19. If there is dirty money circulating in this world, theirs will certainly not be the most worrying.