In early February, if somebody predicted that Greece’s response to the coronavirus pandemic could be stronger than that of Germany, France, the U.Ok., and Italy, they may have been accused of spending an excessive amount of time with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Low expectations appear justified given Greece’s failures over the past decade’s monetary disaster.
However details are details. As measured by deaths as a proportion of the population, Greece has proved six occasions as efficient as Germany, 27 occasions as efficient as France, and 35 occasions as efficient because the U.Ok. To this point it has misplaced simply 172 folks to the pandemic, out of a inhabitants of 11 million.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis confronted labors that may have scared Hercules. A decade of austerity decimated Greece’s public well being system. Greece has the second-highest population of people over 65 within the EU after Italy. About a third of all Greeks live in or near Athens, which is densely urban, famously social, and extremely reliant on public transport. Greeks even have a observe document of poor governance, public disobedience, and populist protests.
And but, Mitsotakis—a former banker and administration guide, with levels from Harvard and Stanford—led a really completely different response.
First, the federal government acted swiftly. Seeing transmissions elsewhere, Greece took restrictive measures early on—two weeks earlier than its first demise. The U.Ok. introduced its full lockdown a day after Greece did, however at that time the Western European nation had 11 occasions as many confirmed instances and 24 times as many deaths.
The quick response was additionally properly executed. Public well being officers communicated straight with the general public by way of every day televised briefings. Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of Greeks complied with public well being orders. The federal government nearly doubled ICU capacity and recruited over 3,500 medical professionals. It coordinated motion with philanthropies—such because the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Onassis Foundation—and corporate partners to make sure donations had been spent successfully and effectively. It labored with local 3D-printing vendors to supply well being care tools. Mitsotakis even took on the highly effective Greek Orthodox Church, banning in-person Easter services regardless of protests from church leaders.
This was a dramatic flip. Greek political leaders throughout the spectrum had created an artwork kind out of publicly blaming consultants for tough coverage measures—from Brussels bureaucrats to native finance and tax officers. In stark distinction, Mitsotakis elevated consultants.
Greece was additionally fortunate. The nation is smaller, extra centrally managed, and fewer globally related than its greater European siblings. On the similar time, it needed to handle an advanced geography, a historical past of public noncompliance with legal guidelines and rules akin to tax collection, and an ongoing refugee disaster.
General, Greece demonstrated consistency in focus and resolve; that very same technique ought to information its reopening efforts.
On Could 4, Mitsotakis announced his reopening plans. The primary part consists of reopening some companies, faculties, public seashores, and spiritual locations beneath strict hygiene guidelines. The usage of masks has turn into compulsory in public transportation and all providers that require bodily contact. Distant working and studying is very inspired.
The general restoration appears much less like flicking an on-off swap than progressively pushing up a dimmer. Transferring too shortly couldn’t solely pose well being dangers, but in addition undermine Greece’s new sense of accomplishment.
Tourism is vital—Greece’s one brilliant spot throughout the monetary disaster. In 2019, it welcomed 34 million visitors (thrice the nation’s inhabitants), who straight contributed 18 billion euros in income (round 10% of GDP) and supported 850,000 jobs (about 22% of employment). However Greece’s overdependence on tourism might turn into its Achilles’ heel. Even within the best-case situation, Greece’s tourism minister expects a 50% reduction this year.
The federal government introduced final week it will start welcoming tourists on June 15, initially opening to international locations which have had relative success in containing the virus. However vacationers will solely journey to Greece in the event that they really feel it’s protected. Security should embrace social distancing, efficient and fast therapy of those that turn into sick, and phone tracing.
Vacationers might want to curtail the flamboyant social mixing that has made Greece an more and more in style vacation spot, significantly for youthful guests. Usually bustling streets, ports, and island cities might want to mitigate crowd sizes. Obligatory masks would encourage confidence with guests and defend native staff.
When individuals are identified with the coronavirus, the response have to be quick. Distant places must have clear plans for the right way to deal with sufferers with various levels of sickness. These ought to embrace on-call docs for all accommodations, telemedicine, and entry to buildings designed to solely deal with COVID-19 instances.
Greece might wish to experiment with digital bracelets and mobile phone–tracing purposes. Such initiatives could also be costly and complex, however they’re achievable if established early on at factors of entry.
Greece has a golden alternative to reimagine journey and set international requirements for the coronavirus restoration. After displaying the world the right way to efficiently lock down, Greece can do the identical with displaying us the right way to reopen.
William J. Antholis is director and CEO of the College of Virginia’s Miller Heart. He’s additionally a nonresident fellow within the Governance Research Program on the Brookings Establishment.
Filippos Letsas is senior analysis assistant within the International Coverage Program on the Brookings Establishment.
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