Evangelia Kekeleki: "Ensure that all Member States have equal access to vaccine therapies and diagnostic tests"

I didn't find it particularly difficult to stay at home during the lockdown. There were a number of things I'd been putting off doing for years. So I had the chance to get down to them and was glad to be able to sort them out. The family photos and mementoes that I'd collected from our parents' houses were all mixed up, so I sorted through them. Putting them in order like this was very emotional. I kept myself busy with activities I'd missed, such as handicrafts, baking, cooking, making traditional Greek liqueurs, jams and preserves - things I don't normally have the time for when I'm trying to keep up with the hectic demands of my job.

On the other hand, I have to say that I really missed the children because they don't live with us. Our younger son would pass by beneath the balcony so we could see each other from a distance, which was hard and brought home how much we were missing out on. I stayed in touch online with my son in England. But we felt the need to contact each other, even though only online, more often than before.

I have the feeling that we gradually began to remember some of the values we had forgotten, such as showing solidarity, saying hello to the people who live next door but who we would forget to greet, smiling from the balcony to someone passing by on the street below. With the pandemic, feelings we had actually forgotten about resurfaced. We had forgotten to feel gratitude. We had been taking our health for granted. In 2020, we could never have imagined that a virus would do so much harm, that it would take loved ones away from us, that in a neighbouring country there would be such a high death rate, so many human lives lost. It all makes you think a bit differently, take a closer look at your basic life values.

The pandemic has thankfully also made us realise the overriding importance of science in our lives. We need to start a discussion to see which countries have been the most affected and why, looking into the role of populism and conspiracy theories, not to mention the anti-vaccination movement, in these countries. The acceptance of and trust in science on the part of politicians and the public has protected some countries, such as Greece. I think we also need to start a discussion about the role of the church, the media and prominent public figures during the pandemic.

It is very significant that in all countries the value of national health systems emerged, since more recently, in the wake of globalisation and society's emphasis on ways of generating wealth, we have woken up to the fact that some services cannot be delivered under a profits-based approach. We had neglected national health systems and came to understand how they need to operate, not just in the event of a pandemic, but always. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those who were on the front line in spite of all the difficulties facing national health systems.

I would like to add a few words on the subject of consumers. Unfortunately in many Member States, due to the pandemic, there was a deterioration in standards of consumer protection, especially for passengers/travellers. Although the relevant EU Commissioner issued a recommendation to Member States not to suspend legislation protecting consumers in respect of flights, package tours and transport, many Member States unfortunately went ahead with the suspension. So instead ofbeing able to get our money back when we cancel tickets, they are giving us vouchers - valid for 12 to 18 months - which are not even guaranteed in the event of the company
we are travelling with filing for bankruptcy. If we do not use the vouchers within the time limit, then we will be able to get our money back. This amounts to interest-free borrowing on the part of the travel companies at the expense of consumers, who have also been affected by the pandemic. I know of people who do not need their vouchers as there is no way they will be using them in the next 12 to 18 months (e.g. school trips for children
who finish secondary school this year). And yet for 12 to 18 months, the parents of these children will have provided an interest-free loan to anyone involved in organising these trips. It is unacceptable for consumer rights to be curtailed.

Moreover, as we are living in a digital era and have all been working from home, making much more use of the Internet, there have been many more cases of online fraud, as well as far more widespread dissemination of fake news, including alleged conspiracies.

What we do need, on the other hand, is to ensure that workers continue to enjoy their acquired rights when teleworking. One issue worth looking into is how teleworkers' performance is calculated, how it should be assessed, and in any event we need to examine working relations under teleworking conditions.

Another very important parameter that the EESC has started to use - one for which the EESC president, Luca Jahier, has already voiced his support on Twitter - is the proposal by the Greek prime minister calling for joint procurement on the part of the Member States of vaccines, therapeutics, medicines and diagnostic tests, so that no Member State is left without supplies that are vital for human life.

This is an initiative that needs to be taken up by the EESC as a whole, in the form of an own-initiative opinion, in order to be absolutely certain that all Member States have equal access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. I would like to say that it gave me great pleasure to present this proposal both to our president, Luca Jahier, and to the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), and both agreed to support it.