Greece Has Become Role Model for COVID-19 Response

Greece was quick to do a strict lockdown and impose severe social distancing measures much earlier than other countries. The country currently has 2,081 reported cases, 269 recovered, and 93 deaths.

“Once again, in times of tremendous difficulty and challenge, little Greece has become a role model for the rest of the world. This speaks to the legacy Greece has shaped over centuries – a legacy of courage, creativity and perseverance,” said Andy Manatos and Mike Manatos, the two Greek American executives of the lobbying firm who spoke to the officials.

"Greece shows how to handle the crisis" - Bloomberg

Greece has been one noticeable — and perhaps surprising — exception to this trend. The government imposed severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the epidemic than other southern European countries. For now, this swift reaction has helped Greece avoid the tragic healthcare crisis that richer states are facing.


Takis Pappas, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, has compared the speed of the response in Greece, Italy and Spain. Athens closed down all non-essential shops only four days after reporting its first Covid-19 death. In contrast, Italy and Spain did so after 18 and 30 days, respectively. A ban on non-essential movement in Greece came only a week afterwards — faster than in either of the other two countries.


Those early actions reduced the pressure on the country’s precarious healthcare system. In mid-March, the Greek national health system (ESY) could only count on 605 intensive care units, of which only 557 were in operation due to staff shortages. Greece has a population of more than 10 million people. That’s a worse ratio than that of Spain, which started with 4,400 ICUs for a population of nearly 47 million and has been overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.


The comparison with Spain is telling. Even though Italy should have adopted lockdown measures sooner, politicians can argue that they were the first in Europe to deal with this unprecedented challenge. The Spanish government, on the other hand, had the benefit of time but dithered, letting mass events, such as demonstrations and football games, occur up to 26 days after the first Covid-19 death.

That world could not look further away now. Tourism represents one-fifth of the country’s total output and the industry will suffer badly if travel restrictions continue into the summer. Small businesses, which employ more than 80% of the country’s total workforce (excluding finance), also face problems with supplies, liquidity and sales.

However, given how quickly Greece responded to the outbreak, the country might be able to get back on its feet sooner than others. Unlike in previous rounds of quantitative easing, the European Central Bank has decided to include Greek bonds in its 750 billion-euro ($810 billion) asset-purchase scheme, which is aimed at supporting the euro zone economy throughout the pandemic. It has also relaxed its rules, so that banks will be able to post Greek sovereign debt as collateral when they take up liquidity from the central banks.

These were wise decisions and will provide additional stability for the country’s financial markets.

For years, much of Europe has looked down on Greece as an insolvable problem. For all its intrinsic frailties, in this pandemic, Athens can walk with its head held high.