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    Lockdown in Greece: Strict rules but lax enforcement

    Greece decided on lockdown restrictions in mid-March, closing down among others schools, restaurants, museums, and retail shops and banning non-essential movement throughout the country.

    The restrictions have been described as among the strictest in Europe and have kept the death toll much lower than in other countries in Europe. The Greek press has published reports about foreign heads of state complimenting the Greek government for its successful containment of the outbreak of the pandemic.

    According to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins Corona Resource Center (28 April), Greece has 2,566 confirmed cases and 138 deaths. The fatality rate per 100.000 inhabitants is only around 1,25 %.

    The Greek government plans to start lifting the lockdown restrictions as of 4 May. A certain relaxation in the streets has already been seen in the last two weeks, a concerned citizen in Athens told The Brussels Times.

    There are unexplained numbers in all countries and the figures are not always comparable because of differences in reporting methodology. How does he explain the low figures in Greece?

    “People already ill from other causes, especially in small places and in rural areas, were certified as dead because of pre-existing condition or old age. In fact, the relatives knew that there was no chance they could have the virus test done and the doctors could not certify that COVID-19 was the cause of the death in the absence of a test.”

    “I think that when the crisis is over, we’ll learn about the mistakes that were made in dealing with the outbreak of the virus,” he says. “The numbers in Greece are surprisingly low and I cannot link them to the government’s response, especially considering the mentality in Greece.”

    “When the crisis broke out in northern Italy, the government should quickly have taken measures concerning travellers returning from Italy,” he says. “In fact, a few infected Greeks came back from there in the beginning of the crisis. Instead of taking precautions, it imposed health controls only two-three weeks after the numbers in Italy had increased rapidly.”

    Most cases in Greece appeared in the big cities and with Greeks traveling outside their city of residence in lower numbers than in other European countries the infection did not spread to other areas as much as in other countries.

    Despite the lockdown measures, he doesn’t understand why pastry shops were allowed to keep open. “Pastries are not a necessity for survival and bread can be bought at supermarkets. Some of these pastry shops are too small to allow for social distancing.”

    Coffee places with no seats are allowed to serve take-away coffee but customers gather inside and outside standing close to each other.

    The supermarkets are another horror story, according to our source. Most of them would not meet safety regulations even under normal circumstances. Customers were initially requested to keep a 10m2 around them which later was raised to 15m2.

    “But most of these places are narrow and it’s impossible to comply with the rule unless only 2-3 customers are allowed in at the same time. As expected, people flocked in with total disregard to the rule. In my experience, very few customers at the supermarkets are trying to keep some distance from each other and the shops are crowded.”

    In fact, he says, on a normal afternoon you could see an unusual high number of young people at uncomfortably small distances from each other in parks. At one supermarket, most of the customers didn’t wear a mask and none of the employees. No person wore gloves, nobody bothered with keeping the distance.

    Do the police enforce the rules? “The press reports that the police issues fines to those venturing out for no serious reason and even imprisons the owners of stores who are open against the rule. On the other hand, I have often seen police squads indifferent to the presence of people in parks, squares and sidewalks.”

    Is it difficult to get hospital care during the coronavirus crisis? “We cannot go to a hospital now unless it is an emergency, so the government advised that people call their doctors. It’s easy for politicians to say so because doctors in public hospitals are notorious for not answering their phones.”

    Any routine or necessary visit has to be with a private physician. “This means that that people may not be able to get proper and timely health care until the public hospitals open again but then there will be long waiting times for an appointment as everybody will try to rush in.”

    It seemed inopportune to him that in mid – March the health minister Vasilis Kikilias in a televised announcement praised the health care employees for their successful dealing with the coronavirus while blaming the previous governments for the problems in the public health care system

    What also worries him is what will happen if there is no testing and contact tracing after the restrictions are lifted. “Asymptomatic people, who are carriers of the virus, will be able to keep infecting others or the virus may mutate to a deadlier strain in the immediate future when we’ll still be recovering from the present crisis.”

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times