Greek Business File, June-July-August 2020, No 126

By A. D. Papagiannidis

Living with Covid-19

Greece has achieved “corona best-practice” status;

now it has to achieve a credible opening of its economy

The great global disruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic could not spare Greece. This was true when the health tsunami came crashing; it becomes equally a matter of concern now that the strict measures taken to contain the spread of the epidemic recede, and that eff orts to reboot the economy intensify. Since all of this occurs just when the tourist season was supposed to rev up in Greece, the next steps really look as being taken on a tightrope.

Greeks have been quite proud to see their country named in international media among those constituting “corona best-practice” at a global level – alongside Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore and Israel (the last two are not necessarily the nicest company: their stringent policing measures do not exactly fi t European fundamental-rights standards). Policies implemented in Greece are a credit to the authorities insofar the numbers of Covid-19 casualties are concerned, but it is consensus that has played the crucial role – at two levels. First, scientists, biologists, infectious-disease specialists, epidemiologists etc. have been able to build among themselves a consensus as to the track to follow, and so have provided the Government with advice, which has been followed, with little political watering-down. Second, there has been an overarching consensus among the population that the strict lock-down approach adopted and the obnoxious implementation routines followed were worth the trouble – to deliver better protection and life-saving results.

But good things can only last that much. So, now that bringing the economy –and social life, which is even more important– back to some sort of normal gets near, consensus proves less and less easy. The fact that the Greek economy is tourism-dependent more than no other European country adds to this; it could be that more than 25% of GDP (especially allowing for the shadow economy) comes from tourism; especially in summer and in tourist regions, employment in tourism-connected businesses flourishes. Starting from personal safety measures (with mask-wearing at the forefront) and going over to social-distancing routines that should be followed (e.g. in schools and cafés and restaurants, as they gradually open) Greek health scientists started voicing divergent opinions. The same was visible when the question arose at which level to start the schools: younger children were supposed to be less vulnerable to Covid-19, so primary schools or even kindergartens should normally open first; but secondary education school-children, especially those close to University-entrance exams, constitute more of a pressure group (in fact, along with their parents). So, the sequence was inverted. Then, news came along of the Covid-19-related Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome affecting children, causing new waves of concern…

Meanwhile – to get back to the more optimistic-sounding discussion over the tourist trade –eff orts to establish something close to a coordinated response to the post-Covid opening up of the economies at a European level went on at a hesitant pace. Travel protocols were slow to establish– and not-so-convincing when they were achieved; the convoluted issue of testing (viral vs. antibody testing, false negatives, marginal positives) was of no real help for the restart of tourist flows; and social distancing at the beach and hotel-residence protocols wove an inextricable spiderweb of complexities.

At the end of the day, since it would seem that Covid-19 will be among us for quite a long time –even if international collaboration (or cut-throat competition) leads to a reliable vaccine sometime in 2020–2012– learning to live with Covid-19 looks impossible to avoid. So, brace up!