Greece as an outlier in the Covid-19 pandemic

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The Covid-19 state of affairs has made of Greece an outlier in Europe – more than once.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, decisiveness carried the day. Declaring (and implementing) a rigorous lock-down, where people had to send SMSs to a central digital node notifying they were getting out of their homes for essential chores only – getting meds at the pharmacy, supplies at the supermarket, or even walking the dog – and also needed a special permit to get to work, the authorities were quite successful in reining in the first Covid-19 wave. Extreme situations such as the ones faced in Northern Italy or later on in Portugal were avoided, notwithstanding the fact that the Greek version of NHS was battered by a decade of austerity and underinvestment/understaffing.

Then, gradually, the official stance was relaxed – but everyday life had already claimed its own right, getting around restrictions and relaxing as summer got near (and the tourist season “had to succeed”). All along, after a first period of quasi-consensus over the need to apply strict protective measures, the never-ending Greek tradition of infusing everything with politics and divisiveness made of Covid-19 and the handling of the pandemic a matter of political/party strife.

Success in dealing with Covid-19 promptly got to the head of officials in charge; political capital that polls showed had been accumulated started to be squandered through self-aggrandisement.  Since public opinion craved for easing of protective measures and as the first tourist season “under Covid circumstances” demanded relaxation, a roller-coaster situation materialized in summer 2020 – autumn 2020 /winter 2021 – winter/spring 2021 – summer 2021. The realization that inoculation with a new generation of vaccines was at hand helped along; for some months, Greece looked once again an outlier with vaccination rates surpassing the European median.

Then, self-entrapment of heroic proportions! the reflection of self-aggrandisement in the mirror of public opinion made the handlers of the pandemic situation oblivious to the most basic principle of coping with a pandemic. Doling out assurances that we are walking the last mile leads to slackening self-protection. This happened just when the Delta (and Delta-plus) variants of SARS-Cov-2 were coming on board. So, autumn 2022 caught Greece with middling rates of effective vaccination, plus with the feeling that the “war on Covid” was won.

End-result? Greece looks once more on the path to become an outlier – this time round if considered as a Western European Country (more at home with Eastern/Balkan situations), insofar unsatisfactory vaccination rated are combined with a NHS buckling under stress. This has led to last-minute restrictions, plus some finger-pointing over less-than-satisfactory “individual responsibility”. Which translates, on officials’ part: “we’ve done all we could, so you beat sole responsibility for whatever happens to you from now on”.