Living with the 3rd wave of Covid-19 in Greece: “the path is traced by walking and meeting”

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

So, after all the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has come crashing down on Greece, too. In fact this time around the surge is centered around the wider region of Athens, home to some two-fifths of the country’s population and 42% of economic activity.

The hospital infrastructure in the capital city of Greece and its outskirts/in the Attica region is increasingly submerged, ICUs are used at full capacity (new beds are added in a way reminding one of somber M*A*S*H conditions – heroic on part of the medical staff but of tenuous reliability at best), private-sector hospital units are marshalled to help out the national health service.

The ongoing economic shock of a protracted lock-down that has been in place since late autumn – with occasional relaxation periods followed by immediate reining-in – is becoming severe. A series of support measures are taken, both for businesses and for workers/households: the official estimate is for 36.5 bn euros of overall support spending since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak one year ago, which for an economy of some 168.5 bn in GDP means more than 20% – quite high even by EU-27 standards indeed. The problem for the Greek situation is that this closely follows a protracted period of economic slump, due to almost one decade of stabilization measures that have slashed Greek GDP by almost one third.

The powers that be will take pride in comparing the current Greek response to the pandemic with the one of other EU countries: Covid-19 cases, severe cases in need of intubation/respiratory support and deaths still compare favourably; the vaccine rollout in Greece, albeit hesitant due to low supply through (botched) EU procurement, also is faring better than in many major countries.

The main problem now is that social cohesion in face of the ongoing outbreak is crumbling down. Weariness over the lock-down combines with weak adherence to restrictions; at each turn, defiance tends to surface. Official assurances that the end is in sight are heard with growing disbelief; meanwhile, announcements about the opening of Greek tourism as early as in May are viewed with restraint – if not with outright disbelief.

“The path is traced by walking and meeting”, but excessive expectations can easily backfire.