Experts Explain Why Greece Has Few COVID-19 Cases and Deaths



Tourists on Santorini island, Greece. File photo

In Greece, a country of 10.7 million people, there have only been 2,726 cases of COVID-19 and 151 deaths, as of May 12. And unlike much of the world, not a single physician treating COVID patients in Greece has died and there have been no deaths in nursing homes, compared to the often staggering numbers of deaths in other countries.

Throughout the world, Greece is being recognized for its quick response to the initial COVID warnings. Upon learning of the first COVID-19 patient being diagnosed, in Thessaloniki on February 26, the government moved quickly to cancel its yearly Carnival.

By March 10, schools and universities had cancelled all classes, followed by the closing of all cafes, restaurants, libraries and museums around the nation on March 13.

“Within three weeks of the first documented case, all cultural and commercial enterprises were shut down, as were sports facilities and areas of religious worship; cities or villages with gradually increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases were strictly quarantined,” said Antonios Kerasnoudis, MD, PhD, a senior consultant neurologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Thessaloniki, as reported in the journal Neurology Today.

Also of note, the government required the public to send SMS messages explaining why they needed to leave their homes — and then wait for permission to leave home. Those caught outside their homes without permission risked being slapped with sizable fines.

The media also assisted the government in the effort to hold down the number of infections.

“An unprecedented media campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health in Greece. The public was well-informed and thus persuaded to implement preventive measures, enduring not only social distancing and isolation, but new financial hardships from an economy that came to a standstill,” said Konstantinos Charalampopoulos MD, consultant neurologist in Alexandroupolis, in the Neurology Today report.

The Greek government is also being praised for selecting an infectious disease specialist, Sotirios Tsiodras, MD, to be its spokesman during daily press conferences, in which he has been seen nationwide providing the latest updates about the pandemic, and giving advice from the authorities.

Other steps being recognized which helped in slowing the spread of the virus include issuing guidelines suspending all visits to hospitals, in a bid to protect patients, doctors and nurses.

And while there were initially short supplies of protective gear at hospitals, private donors, along with universities and other institutions, helped to provide masks and protective eye gear. Of course, this has been true worldwide as well.

Authorities also were quick to designate certain hospitals for the treating of COVID-19 patients, to ensure that they would remain isolated, rather than treat them in all the hospitals across the nation, wherever the victims lived.

Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas from Columbia University and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens noted in the Neurology Today story that “The health care system never reached its capacity, nor even came close to it; only about a quarter of the available ICU beds were used, and medical visits at all settings decreased substantially.”

Good planning, lightning-quick decision-making, and the broad cooperation of the public are seen as key elements in Greece’s success in containing the spread of COVID-19.

According to Dr. Konstantinos Vadikolias, a professor of neurology at Democritus University of Thrace and a member of the board of directors of the Hellenic Neurologic Society, “The key to success, if any — because we don’t know the end yet — was the fact that for this difficult period, human life comes first, no matter how great the cost might be.”