Greek PM’s bike ride sparks lockdown backlash

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis faced a backlash Friday over a mountain bike trip deemed to have violated the government’s strict lockdown measures.

Video and photo footage emerged last weekend showing Mitsotakis and his wife in the company of motocross riders on Mount Parnitha, 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Athens.

He caused further outrage by posing with five of the men — not one wearing a mask.

Under lockdown rules that came into force on November 7 — and now extended until December 14 — people face fines of at least 300 euros ($359) for venturing out without a clear reason.

The wearing of masks is also compulsory outdoors under regulations Mitsotakis himself announced.

In response to the prime minister’s actions, nearly 4,000 people have pledged to cycle at Parnitha on Saturday in a Facebook group created for the purpose.

The office of government spokesman Stelios Petsas sent a letter to AFP on Friday to stress that “exercise activities and walks (are) allowed in a broader region” under the latest lockdown.

“In a statement the Prime Minister himself made on November 5th, he noted that during the second lockdown, ‘people must in one way or another be afforded the opportunity to get out, exercise, run, walk, bike’,” the letter said. 

“As long as some basic rules are followed, exercise, a walk in a park or mountain, are things we will be more flexible with,” it said.

However, civil protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias on November 11 issued a “strong recommendation” that any personal exercise should take place “preferably near the citizens’ home” and only in groups of up to three.

And Mitsotakis had added on November 5: “We want people to leave their homes only when absolutely necessary.”

Opposition parties have accused Mitsotakis of arrogance at a time when the government has restricted street demonstrations and arrested protesters over social distancing.

“You are a government of Versailles… a government full of Louis and Marie Antoinettes,” leftist main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras told parliament, referring to the French royal family toppled by the revolution.

More than 2,800 people have died of the virus, including 98 on Friday, and over 600 people are in intensive care.

Over 1,600 new infections were announced Friday.