THE GUARDIAN: HOW GREECE IS BEATING CORONAVIRUS DESPITE A DECADE OF DEBT
The health ministry’s daily coronavirus briefing then begins with Sotiris Tsiodras, a soft-spoken Harvard-trained professor of infectious diseases, delivering the latest facts and figures with the occasional emotional plea. Nikos Hardalias, the civil defense minister, invariably follows, invoking the gravity of the situation with warnings that Greeks “must stay at home”.
Greece, it is generally agreed, is having a better crisis than may have been expected. Tsiodras recently allowed himself to speak of “a flattening of the curve” even if authorities accept that the prospect of Orthodox Easter, on 19 April, is unlikely to be without challenge. Traditionally, Greeks flock to ancestral villages in the countryside to celebrate the biggest festival in their religious calendar.
The country’s ability to cope with a public health emergency of such proportions was not a given. After almost a decade embroiled in debt crisis – years in which its economy contracted by 26% – Greece’s health system has far from recovered.
Mentis sits on the scientific committee that advises the centre-right government on the deadly disease. What is increasingly being seen as textbook crisis management, even by political foes, has been attributed as much to prioritising science over politics as to a managerial approach that focused on what the 51-year-old Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has described as “state-sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve and swiftness”.
In late February, before Greece had recorded its first death, carnival parades were cancelled. On 10 March, before much of Europe, schools were ordered closed. Within days, bars, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, malls, cinemas, retail stores, museums and archaeological sites were also shuttered.
Traumatic scenes in Italy, across the Adriatic, shocked Greeks as much as anyone else and were highlighted by Tsiodras and Hardalias as they tried to ram home the message of the dangers posed by the disease.
“When the pandemic broke, the need to simplify government processes became paramount,” Greece’s minister of digital governance, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, told the Guardian. “One of the first things we did to limit the incentives for people to exit their homes was to enable them to receive prescriptions on their phones. That, alone, has saved 250,000 citizens from making visits to the doctor in the space of 20 days. It has dramatically helped reduce the number of people exiting their home, which can only be a good thing.”
Meanwhile, Greece has managed to almost double the number of ICUs. But doctors say testing, limited with rare exception to hospitals, will need to be much more widespread for confidence to prevail.
The costs to an economy so dependent on tourism are already high – and that is before emergency funding worth €14.5bn (£12.6bn) in state benefits and tax deferrals is taken into account.
For now, however, the government is basking in the limelight of unexpected praise for having flattened the curve.