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During the course of the Coronavirus crisis, the public has heard a lot about Germany, Sweden and South Korea, in terms of how each has managed the pandemic.

But one country that has received less attention is Greece.

In spite of its close proximity to Italy, which was majorly affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and the fact it has one of the oldest populations in the EU (second to Italy), Greece has managed to mitigate Covid-19 in a rather astonishing way.

Indeed, it has had just 2,744 confirmed cases and 152 deaths, according to John Hopkins University – even more of an achievement given that its healthcare system has been weakened by a decade-long financial crisis.

What’s been credited for its small transmission rate is its government’s choice to impose lockdown quickly.

It was sparked into action on February 27, when Greece’s first Covid-19 case was diagnosed in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in the country.

In response, the government cancelled Greece’s annual carnival. 

Then on March 11, the government shut down schools and by March 16 the country was in full lockdown – ahead of many others.

To enforce its rules, there have been police roadblocks, and Greek citizens are required to download and fill in a government form that explains any visits they make each day, and how long these will take.

As most of them carry ID at all times, officials can then check they are not breaking the rules against their documents.

There are also fines for civil disobedience.

One source tells me that these can be anything from 150 to 300 euros.

To UK citizens this might not seem like an astronomical amount, but given the economically tumultuous times Greece has experienced, it can be as much as a monthly wage for some.

Fines are even higher for people coming from abroad, who will be charged around £4,330 if they do not go through a two-week quarantine.

Considering how politically turbulent Greece has been over the years, some have been surprised at how compliant the population has been with government plans.

One reason for this compliance is likely to be huge sympathy with Italy, whose own horrifying battle with Coronavirus was broadcast across Europe.

Greece has something of a cultural affinity with the country, epitomised by the Italian phrase “una faccia, una razza” (one face, one race). It famously refers to their long-standing historical relationship.

This might help to explain why Greece was one of the most reactive countries in witnessing Italy.

There are other health reasons why Greeks may have been particularly compliant, not least healthcare capabilities.

Though its government ramped up the country’s hospital capacity – with a 70 per cent increase in intensive care beds and 3,337 additional hospital staff members – the system is still not as strong as others, as a result of Greece’s economic woes.

Perhaps citizens recognise this – and are being cautious accordingly.

Whatever the impetus, compliance has been impressive.

But that doesn’t mean there are no challenges ahead for Greece.

One is the secondary affects of Covid-19.

Yes, the government has protected its citizens in the immediate.

But because so much of its economy depends on tourism, the lack of travellers over summer – partially because their own governments have banned travel – will have a huge impact. 

There’s also its ongoing migrant crisis, with Coronavirus cases among refugees on Lesbos.

The government will be tested in terms of how best to deal with the situation – in the framework of an increasingly fractured EU.

And lastly there’s the fact less than one per cent of people in Greece have been tested for Covid-19.

Although it is now trying to ease lockdown measures, it remains to be seen how many cases of Covid-19 dormant in the population; they could shoot up again as people are let out.

Even so, the country’s reputation for instability – political and economic – has certainly been tempered by this crisis.

23 comments for: “Una faccia, una razza”. Greece – a success story in managing Covid-19?

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