As the covid-19 pandemic death toll nears 178,000 worldwide and over 2.5 million people are now infected, Greece continues to amaze the rest of the world with its low rate of fatalities and cases, receiving praise from the international community for the way its government and people have responded.
Scientists and analysts across the world give credit to Greece for managing to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus with a great degree of success. The country is currently counting 121 dead (representing 11.28 deaths permission population) and 2,401 confirmed cases, a far cry from the figures of other European countries.
There are six reasons that Greece has managed to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic, thus becoming an example for other countries.
The protective measures were decided by scientists, not politicians
Traditionally, Greek politics are characterized by division and, at best, open bickering between opposing parties. Also, Greek governments have been known to be usually more concerned about their re-election than their constituents. In times of crisis, they usually try to appease the peoples’ wishes.
The Covid-19 pandemic was likely the first time in modern Greek history that politicians stepped aside and let the scientists and experts draw up the plan to contain the new coronavirus and curb its spread. The Greek government immediately formed a committee of epidemiologists and doctors and followed their suggestions.
And, surprisingly, the opposition parties did not react negatively and try to create division and sow discord, unlike what has clearly happened in other countries.
The measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were swift and austere. Yet they were backed by solid scientific facts, not by political speeches. The Greek people adhered to them because they did not seem to be imposed on them by the government but felt more like impartial medical advice.
More importantly, though, the Greek government managed to pass the necessary measures and keep churches closed during Easter, despite efforts of the Church of Greece to keep them open. Since this particular measure was essentially decided upon by scientists, the Church was forced to comply.
The government imposed precautionary measures very early
The Greek government did not waste time in imposing measures that would protect people from the disease, clamping down on public movement immediately. Even though the Ministry of Health was reassuring people that the State was prepared to deal with the coronavirus when it was still restricted to China, as soon as the first case was detected, measures were taken immediately.
The first confirmed case — a Thessaloniki woman who had travelled to Milan, Italy and served on the city council — was quarantined and health authorities rushed to trace the people she had had contact with since she returned.
Greece completely shut down schools and advised social distancing as soon as the first death was reported (March 11). When the number of cases started to grow, the government proceeded to close shops and imposed other equally strict measures. Shops that were deemed non-essential in Greece closed down four days after the first death.
Italy and Spain took similar measures only after the passage of 18 and 30 days respectively.
Despite initial reactions to the bold, wide-ranging and draconian measures decided by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis early in the spread of Covid-19, Greek citizens complied.
The nation’s people are informed daily
The Greek government launched an extensive campaign informing its citizens about the necessary precautionary measures to take. The Menoume Spiti, or “Stay Home,” campaign is everywhere, on continuous television spots, in electronic media, print media and on radio.
More importantly, the daily 6 PM press conference by Sotiris Tsiodras, Health Ministry spokesman and head of the scientific committee to battle Covid-19, on national television became Greece’s reference point of the entire pandemic crisis.
The charismatic Dr. Tsiodras, who speaks compassionately while presenting hard scientific facts, is currently the most popular Greek person, according to a recent poll. His soothing tone of voice, his humanity and his expertise in the field of epidemiology makes his program a daily must-watch for quarantined Greeks.
The Greeks have historically valued health
The word health (Υγεία) is ingrained in the Greek subconscious and the language. When a Greek says “Γεια σου” (Yia sou) when they greet somenone or say goodbye, they are literally wishing you good health in both cases. Also, when they make a toast by raising a glass, they say “Στην υγειά σου” (Ι drink to your health).
When a Greek agrees wholeheartedly with something one says or does, he or she says “Άϊ γεια σου”, meaning “You are right (or rightly said), good health to you.”
Also, when a Greek sneezes, people near him say “Yitses!” which is the diminutive of the word “Hygieia.”
It is natural then that the threat of Covid-19 made Greeks very cautious. Even made them ignore the nice weather or the traditional Easter holiday and stay home to stay healthy.
The Greeks’ respect for the elderly
Unlike in most European countries, Greeks have a great respect for the elderly, and especially the grandmother of the family. The yiayia is the one person who has raised most Greeks. Additionally, Greece, along with Italy, has the largest percentage of pensioners in Europe.
With the victims of Covid-19 being mostly elderly people, Greeks became alarmed. Their precious grandmother and grandfather were seen to be in danger. So they responded accordingly, in order to protect them from the coronavirus.
In fact, the protection of the elderly features prominently in the “Stay Home” campaign.
The economic crisis has prepared Greeks to face the coronavirus pandemic
The recent 10-year-long economic and social crisis has hardened Greeks, and made them more resilient and pragmatic — maybe for good. They became inventive. They learned to do more with less, they learned to live a more frugal life, they stayed home because they had no money to go out.
Perhaps they stayed home because in the previous decade they couldn’t afford two weeks of vacation.
For many, the lockdown was not that bad because they were used to staying in and finding ways to entertain themselves — the only difference was that they they couldn’t invite people over. But even so, Skype and social media kept all our friends and relatives together. The social and economic crisis has definitely prepared Greeks for the pandemic crisis.
The crisis further tightened these newfound bonds of solidarity between Greeks. Doctors and medical staff gave it their all when the pandemic hit their fellow Greeks. So did the supermarket employees, the city cleaners, the bus drivers, and the food delivery guys.
The pandemic was the time for all Greeks to show what they have learned after ten years of austerity. And it has made them an example for the rest of the entire world.