Greece’s Herculean success in confronting COVID-19

Much has been made of the leadership – or lack thereof – across Europe, first in preventing and then managing the coronavirus crisis: from criticism of the UK government’s delayed response; to praise for Denmark’s and Norway’s “lockdown early and hard” approach; to confusion over Sweden’s strategy. But very little has been made of Greece’s somewhat surprisingly-successful measures.

By Darren McCaffrey

So far, the country has announced a much lower death toll from COVID-19 than its fellow southern European nations Italy and Spain, but also fewer fatalities than Germany or Denmark. In fact, as of 3pm CET today (15 April, 2020) Greece had recorded 101 deaths in a country of around 11 million people.

Its ability to cope with a public health emergency of such proportions was unexpected. After almost a decade of austerity, in which the country’s economy contracted by 26 percent, Greece only has 560 intensive care beds. Additionally, like Italy, it has a significant elderly population – a quarter of citizens are pensioners.

But Athens acted quickly. All non-essential shops were closed four days after its first COVID-19 death. In contrast, Italy and Spain did so after 18 and 30 days, respectively. Greece was also one of the first countries to shut schools and cancel carnivals. Outdoor celebrations on the National Day were all cancelled.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has emerged as one of Europe’s leaders, with a boost in support at home. It appears the political system as a whole, including the main opposition party Syriza, is united in its approach to the crisis. That’s not to say it’s all good news.

Greece, like everywhere else is seeing its economy hammered. The tourism sector in particular has essentially closed up shop. And small businesses, which employ more than 80% of the country’s total workforce (excluding finance), are also facing problems with supplies, liquidity and sales.

These are difficult times across Europe, but some countries are faring better than others, some countries are being praised more than others and the latter should include Greece!