An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal praised Greece’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the global praise received by the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“The state has so far responded capably to the public-health threat, earning the people’s trust and compliance,” Columnist Yiannis Palaiologos wrote in the New York-based financial newspaper.
Paliologos outlines the severe economic crisis that will follow the world’s eventual return to normalcy and how Greece will be hard hit, citing already high unemployment and post-coronavirus estimates.
“Greek unemployment, which had fallen to around 16% from a crisis-era high of 28%, will explode again. Small and medium-size businesses, which account for 88% of employment (compared with the European Union average of 67%), will be pummeled. Given its debt, equal to 181% of GDP, the Greek government’s fiscal capacity to help is limited.”
“And yet there is hope, stemming from the most unusual of sources: the performance of the Greek state in this crisis. As of Monday, Greece had 2,145 cases and 99 deaths—in a population of nearly 11 million. Both the death rate and the cases per capita are among the lowest in the EU. This was achieved by closing schools and nonessential businesses earlier than most countries and ordering a full lockdown by March 22, when only 624 cases and 15 deaths had been recorded.“
“The government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has managed admirably. It isn’t only that the right decisions were made ahead of time, but also that they were well-communicated and—shocking, given the shambolic record of Greek public administration—effectively implemented. The daily 6 p.m. briefings featuring Sotirios Tsiodras, the infectious-diseases expert in charge of crisis response, have become required viewing. They combine detailed explanations of the evolution of restrictive measures and scientific developments with pedagogic homilies about the sanctity of human life and the need for unity and perseverance. On the streets, police make sure to enforce the decrees barring unnecessary movement, including with the imposition of steep fines.“
“The result of this atypical efficacy has been widespread compliance: Greece’s usually unruly population has mostly followed the lockdown rules. Holy Week, which begins Monday for Eastern Orthodox Christians, will be another test—of the ban on religious services and of Greeks’ ability to resist the temptation to drive out to their summer homes as the weather becomes more beguiling. In anticipation, police presence in tolling stations on the main exits from Athens has been strengthened significantly.“
The piece also touched on Greece’s building up of its healthcare sector, which was decimated by a decade of financial distress.
Pre-coronavirus, Greece had a mere 565 intensive care beds for a population of 11 million. The government has nearly doubled this number.
The piece paints an optimistic outlook while reiterating that it’s still too early to claim victory.
“It is still early and a lot could go wrong. But if Greece escapes a health catastrophe thanks to the policies of its government and the cooperation of the governed, it could be a watershed moment—the birth of a new social compact. Lack of trust between the state and society, and among Greeks themselves, has been the key element in Greece’s inability to build a meritocratic, effective public administration and an open, competitive economy. An effective response to the pandemic would greatly strengthen that sense of trust—and serve as the foundation for future success.”
About the author
Yiannis Palaiologos is a freelance correspondent who contributes columns in the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of the book “The Thirteenth Labour of Hercules” about the Greek financial crisis.
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