I love Greece. Its history, culture and people.
I have developed friendships with many Greeks. Two mentioned here. Theodore Markis and Jim Brown. Theodore lives in Loannina on the Greek mainland. Jim on the island of Crete.
Both have kept in touch during the coronavirus pandemic. It has affected Greece as it has the U.S. Both cannot understand the recent protests in U.S. streets to open things up. Not the way the people handled things in Greece.
They are literally shocked that America is behaving as it has.
Time Magazine published an article on its website 4/21. An investigative report. An interesting writing. It gives top grades to Greece for the way it has handled Covid-19.
Theodore brought the article to my attention.
I am paraphrasing its contents. I will not be comparing Greece’s actions to those of the U.S. We know what the U.S. has done. The comparisons will automatically come to mind as you read today’s blog.
Greece has succeeded in meeting the coronavirus attack. Big time.
Greece’s success is attributed to the way it met the coronavirus onslaught. Head on. They prepared and managed it.
The success is attributed to 2 factors. Sweeping restrictive measures and the country began to impose them before any other European country.
Time lionizes Greek authorities in glowing terms for the country’s spectacular success. Success in limiting the spread of the virus and in keeping the death toll extremely low. One hundred sixteen to date.
The people were asked to suffer in order to win. And suffer they did! The most painful deprivation was the national lock down at Easter time.
Greek tradition has people traveling during Easter time to their ancestral homes to celebrate the holiday. Passengers in well over 100,000 vehicles travel to the various provinces.
Churches were monitored, streets patrolled, drones deployed. The lock down was strictly enforced. The people uncomplainingly did as told.
In the final analysis, it was the government imposed measures and the way the Greek people largely abided by them that made success possible.
Prior to this year, Greece has suffered 10 years of extreme financial difficulty. Everything cut to the bone so Greece could survive economically. Greece has been wrapped in financial austerity.
Medical facilities a place where cuts were imposed. So much so that as coronavirus was imminent, Greece had only 560 ICU beds. In all of Greece! In a country of 11 million persons that equates to 5.2 ICU beds per 100,000 people.
The Orthodox Church of Greece was a problem when the government imposed lock down at Easter time. Clerics insisted no one could contact the virus from Holy Communion because Communion consisted of the “true body and blood” of Christ.
Clerics turned to the media to attack the government’s position. The media did not challenge the Church’s position. It let the Clerics speak and then moved on to another subject. No questions, no exchanges.
The media did express one short comment each time: Scientific facts to the contrary had been presented in previous interviews. There the issue died.
The right mixture of measures to prevent and contain the virus contributed also to Greece’s success.
Late in February, before a single death, carnivals were cancelled. On March 5, schools, cafes, universities, and most businesses were closed.
Note that there were only 31 confirmed cases on March 5. The government anticipated what was to come and took steps before the virus hit full blast.
Compelling early government action were the budget cuts over the years. They necessitated early action to avoid collapse of an already “fragile” public health system. Additional ICU beds were added and hundreds of doctors and nurses hired.
Note again. Only 31 confirmed cases on March 5.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis an unusual leader. He saw and met the task before him. Time praised him.
On March 22, the Prime Minister announced the lock down. He cited neighboring Italy’s tragic situation to rally the Greek people behind him: “In Italy unfortunately, one person is lost every two minutes. We have to protect the common good, our health.”
On lock down day March 22, Greece had 624 confirmed cases, 15 deaths. By comparison, the United Kingdom announced its own lock down the same day: 6,650 confirmed cases, 335 deaths.
The government conducted an effective public information campaign. It was critical to Greece’s success. The truth. Good, bad or indifferent. No shading.
A daily television broadcast provided the Greek people with up to the moment developments.
Time reported Greece’s success in large measure is attributed to a “massive, effective public information campaign.”
Costly, however. The government thus far has spent a whopping 11 million euros from an already depleted budget.
In the daily TV reports, citizens were warned that the weak health care system meant harsh measures had to be implemented early in order to save lives, even if the economy was hit hard.
Greece has private and public hospitals. The government entered into an agreement with the private hospitals whereby the private hospitals agreed to take on non-coronavirus cases. Thereby freeing up space for Covid-19 patients in public hospitals.
Keep in mind refugees had poured into Greece in big numbers prior to the onset of coronavirus. Most from Africa. The government had placed them in migrant camps. These refugees posed a special challenge.
The migrant camps received unequal care when compared to the Greek populace. They also had a higher risk of infection.
The threat was minimized by 2 factors. Both unusual. First, the low average age of refugees and immigrants. Second, their physical stamina and endurance after making the long and arduous journey to Europe.
There were 5 refugee camps on islands themselves. In one where 40,000 were located, the conditions were squalid. The place a “legal limbo.”
Nineteen thousand were confined at another camp on a different island. Things bad there also. One benefit, however. The camp had 3 doctors.
No virus cases developed on the islands where the vast majority of migrants were kept. However, cases occurred at 2 camps on the Greek mainland. Forty four cases at one and 150 cases at another. All confirmed. No deaths.
Always keep in mind that Greece was broke going into the epidemic. The country had been in financial distress for 10 years. Its economy battered.
Coronavirus is having a dire impact on the economy. Borrowing money has become as much of a challenge as fighting the virus.
The government continues to meet the challenge. Whatever is necessary. Borrow from Peter to pay Paul, fail to pay Paul, etc.
Two areas contribute heavily to Greece’s GDP. Tourism and indirect income. Tourism normally constitutes 11.7 percent. Indirect income, which includes international shipping, 39.9 percent.
The government recognizes the economy must be stimulated so the people can return to work, etc. Borrowing as described a problem. The lock down not helping. No income being produced.
Greece’s high debt to GDP ratio means it may be difficult to continue borrowing if the coronavirus crisis stretches into months or years.
Thus Greece’s story. That of one of the poorest nations in the world. Compare it to the story of the U.S. Considered by most the richest nation.
Greece has accomplished more with less. In addition, a different mindset. The people and government alike.
Enjoy your day!