The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has continued to appear on headlines from media outlets around the world. Vaccine passports and mandates are increasingly being implemented for travel and work. However, millions of people have protested the idea of mandatory vaccination, and criminals have exploited the issue by issuing fake vaccine certificates in some countries.
Greece is one of those countries embroiled in the scam. The National Transparency Authority (NTA) found that 10 vaccination centers in the country were probably guilty of issuing fake vaccination certificates.
According to a report from the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, authorities have identified a number of false documents after it was reported that a health center in Palamas, located in central Greece, was suspected of handing out at least 44 bogus certificates.
Proof of the 44 fake documents, which came from the health center, was given to the prosecutor on Monday, Sept. 6. So far, 31,296 vaccination certificates have been issued in the region, raising concerns about how many of the certificates are bona fide.
An administrative employee who managed to tap into the online platform using a doctor’s access code was found guilty of registering people as vaccinated. Disparities detected on the printed certificates revealed the scandal.
Since then, more cases of fraud have emerged in regions such as Messolonghi, Kavala, Kozani, Ikaria, and Patra. Several other facilities have also come under scrutiny, and this has led to health officials getting fired.
After a meeting with regional health officials in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga said, “False certificates are a problem that is upsetting us a lot. I think there is a very small number of them right now and these can be checked. Legal action will be taken in those cases where fraud is confirmed and we will be ruthless.”
According to Thanos Plevris, Health Minister, a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,894) will be given to individuals for health certificates that are issued fraudulently. Fines of up to 50,000 euros ($58,938) could be levied on private health facilities guilty of issuing fake certificates.
“People planning to commit these acts should know that they will be fired, they may face criminal prosecution, and they will have to pay a lot of money,” Plevris told state ERT TV.
Deputy Health Minister Gaga also emphasized that health workers, for whom vaccination is mandatory, will now feel the full weight of the law. Vaccination for all healthcare workers has been mandatory since Sept. 1. So far, 5,895 healthcare workers who have not received the jab have been suspended.
Given a large number of affected employees, the Greek government has decided to give healthcare workers another chance to get the first shot of the vaccine and allow them to return to work. As many as 10,000 hospital workers could face suspension for not taking the vaccine, according to a Greek labor union official.
“I’m here today because I want to support the constitutional right of every Greek citizen to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to vaccination. I personally am vaccinated, but I believe it is my colleagues’ right to not get vaccinated if they don’t want to,” said Evangelia Karatzouli, a nurse at a public hospital. Karatzouli was part of a rally of hundreds of healthcare workers who protested outside the health ministry in Athens on Aug. 26.
In recent weeks, Greece has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. With 4,608 new cases, the daily new confirmed cases per million were highest in August at 318.84 since the start of the pandemic, compared to January-end when it was 66.49, a 4.8-fold increase.
From Sept. 13 onwards, new rules came into effect. Unvaccinated customers without a negative COVID-19 test result issued in the past 48 hours lost access to bars, cinemas, and restaurants. Students and staff in schools must wear masks and use test kits if they are found to be unvaccinated.