Despite difficulties in conducting comparative analyses between governments’ Covid-19 responses, it has been widely agreed that the Greek Government has been successful in coping with the pandemic and this blog will discuss what was done to allow for the end of lockdown on 4 May.
Greece is set to end the lockdown and reopen public spaces on 4 May. Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitostakis recently announced a new cycle of measures to continue to face down the Covid-19 pandemic. These measures have been broadly well-received and include freedom of movement for the population within their province of residence and permission for meetings of up to 10 people. The measures also allow residents to practice sports outdoors (including going to the beach), visit religious centres individually and reopen small stores. Everyone in Greece must wear a face covering in public spaces and the use of public transportation is limited to travellers that do not show cold or flu-like symptoms. The Prime Minister also announced the Government’s plan to reopen all schools and most stores after 11 May and by the first week of June freedom of movement within Greece would be restored, along with the opening of hotels and museums. The Greek plan for reopening the country after the first wave of the pandemic follows a similar European pattern to other countries including Portugal and Spain.
The main difference is that Greece has managed to maintain a reduced number of infections – under 3,000 in total in a country of 11 million people – and only 134 people were registered to have died of Covid-19 as of 1 May 2020. While in France or Spain the de-escalation announcements have been accompanied by warnings about how provisional the measures can be, Greek numbers have given the authorities confidence about their capacity to minimise the impact of the pandemic. This situation begs the question of how is it possible that a country that has been forced to cut billions out of public healthcare expenditure, with a population significantly aged by external migration and that has been tasked to assist close to 35,000 refugees in camps has managed to escape the worst consequences of coronavirus so far.
Health experts are currently struggling to conduct comparative analyses due to significant problems in standardising data and there is not yet a definitive understanding of what has enabled some countries to cope with the pandemic better than others. However, analysts agree that the Greek Government’s early steps to contain the virus have been key in this success. The Government was aware of the weakness of the health systems ability to cope with an avalanche of Covid-19 cases and decided in late February to cancel the carnivals and other big events before a single death from coronavirus had been recorded in the country. Instead of delaying the response to minimise the initial economic impact, the country closed all stores by the beginning of March and imposed strict restriction for non-essential travel by the end of the month. Another factor that contributed to reduced mortality amongst elder Greeks was that during the prolonged economic crisis families had already brought back their older relatives from care homes, both to reduce family expenses and to share their pensions with their family units. The low density of residents in Greek home care facilities contrasts with the situation in other countries.
Mobility reports offered by Google show that Greeks had a similar pattern of movement to people currently have in the UK (moving far more than their neighbours in Spain). Local authorities in Greece introduced harsher lockdown measures within their powers to discourage residents who boycotted the Government’s early response. Thanks to the ongoing support from sub-national administrations, the Greek Government was able to double Greece’s capacity to provide ICU beds while these units remained empty at the beginning of the pandemic. For the moment mass testing is off the table due to budgetary constraints.
An area of concern remains; international aid organisations fear that Greek refugee camps are not ready to cope with any outbreaks and proper hygiene and social distancing measures are not available to them. So far, no cases have been registered in mainland camps. The government is quarantining the positive cases and relocating vulnerable populations from the island camps to mainland towns, and is encouraging international solidarity with refugee children.
It will be important to follow the pandemic figures in Greece, alongside other countries, as lockdown measures are relaxed and it is likely that the true story of this pandemic will continue to be written over the coming months, even years.