The Corona horror reports have an additional scare in the case of Greece. Several of the refugee camps in the country, some of which are overwhelmingly overcrowded, are under quarantine because the virus has already been detected there or because an outbreak is feared. Violent protests broke out on Chios over the weekend after a 47-year-old Iraqi woman died of a fever after a day-long illness. The anger of the demonstrators was sparked by the rumor that the woman had a corona infection. There were allegations that the authorities had not adequately protected the other residents. The woman was tested negative for Covid-19 – but the incident shows how tense the situation is now.
The country as a whole is doing comparatively well in dealing with the Corona crisis. Greece recorded the 116th Covid-19 death on Tuesday morning, with a total of 2,245 cases among the eleven million people who were proven to be infected. Compared to Spain, Italy, or France, these are almost negligible numbers. The country has a similarly high proportion of older people as Italy – and the Greek health care system is in a miserable state after a decade of economic crisis and austerity measures. When the virus reached Europe in January, the inventory showed that Greece had only 560 intensive care beds in total.
In view of the particularly high level of vulnerability in their country, the Greek government decided on early measures. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis commissioned his officials in January to develop a comprehensive crisis plan. Authorities started testing and isolating suspected cases early, with a particular focus on travelers from China.
Carnival parades in February were banned, schools were closed on March 4, long before most other European countries decided to do so. A few days later, restaurants, cafes, gyms and museums followed. A comprehensive lockdown – with potentially devastating effects on an economy that has only just started to recover from the multi-year crisis. However, according to observers, the early action to bring the situation under control was decisive. The curve was flattened before it could start to shoot up exponentially.
Also, Athens has significantly accelerated planned reforms under the impact of the Corona crisis. Above all, a digital offensive to curb the notorious, crippling paper bureaucracy. At the end of April, two months earlier than originally planned, the government released a portal that enables all citizens to apply for documents such as marriage certificates or residence certificates online.
Greece has more of its own reserves than it did a few years ago
The early adoption could help “save the lives of millions of Greeks,” said Kyriakos Pierrakakis, minister of digital policy, as they could now stay at home instead of exposing themselves to the risk of contagion from the authorities. The exit restrictions are now also partially digitally directed: If you wanted to leave the house to go shopping, for example, you had to fill out an application form beforehand, which is now possible via SMS.
But even if Greece has so far been spared a gigantic corona death wave: The economic shock waves of the pandemic still threaten the country with brutal force. The Achilles heel of the Greek economy is tourism. Around half of the country’s economic growth went to its account in 2018, every fourth job in the country depends on it, and on some islands in the Aegean the sector accounts for 90 percent of gross domestic product.
Given the successes in containing the epidemic, many still hope that the 2020 tourism season will not be complete, but that it will be late in July or August – but that depends, as Prime Minister Mitsotakis told the newspaper Kathimerini The weekend said, “Not only from the events in Greece” – but also from those in Great Britain, France, Germany, “those countries from which a lot of tourists come every year”.
Greece has more reserves of its own than it did a few years ago, and it also has more confidence in Europe: the European Central Bank recently decided to buy Greek bonds worth EUR 12 billion. Mitsotakis admits that the recession is inevitable – but: “The upswing in 2021 will be greater than the recession in 2020.”