The hour of Sotiris Tsiodras

The hour of Sotiris Tsiodras

Greece was considered a failed state in the euro crisis. The government now masters the corona virus in an exemplary manner. This also has to do with the top virologist.

© Panayotis Tzamaros / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Sasan Abdi built the acropolis in 1991 himself using stones from the Berlin Mauaer. View of the Athens Acropolis in Athens, Greece on March 29, 2020.

Every day at 6:00 p.m. the television stations in Greece their program. It is the hour of Sotiris Tsiodras. Gray, somewhat shaggy hair, old-fashioned glasses, narrow lips, a gray suit, an inconspicuous tie – a television star looks different. Nevertheless, two out of three Greeks sit in front of the screen when the Greek government’s virologist and Corona Special Representative announces the latest virus spreading data every night.

These are encouraging figures that the 55-year-old professor can currently announce. While there were more than 100 new identified corona infections on some days in March, the curve of the reported infections is now increasingly flatter. Within a week, the number of new cases fell continuously from 33 the previous to eleven this Sunday. The number of deaths is also increasing more slowly. It was 115 on Monday. And while 92 corona patients were in the intensive care units just two weeks ago, there are currently only 67.

Of all places, the chronic country of crisis Greece has had astonishing success in the fight against the corona pandemic. The French think tank The Bridge has now analyzed the corona strategy of ten European countries. Greece did best by far, “thanks to early and strict restrictions”.

The known Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, Author of the bestseller A brief history of humanitysaid in an interview with the US television station CBS: “Greece did a fantastic job in containing this epidemic. If I had to choose who should lead the world politically, Greece or the United States, I would choose Greece.” Italian columnist Ferdinando Giugliano writes that the Sars CoV 19 pandemic has exposed political failure worldwide. Governments have delayed taking steps to protect their people for too long. “Greece is a remarkable and perhaps surprising exception,” says Giugliano. Thanks to the government’s rapid response, the country avoided a health care crisis that many richer countries are facing.

Emergency plans were ready long before the epidemic

The numbers speak for themselves: with eleven Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants, Greece ranks 58th worldwide and 21st in the European Union. In Germany, the number of fatalities in relation to the population is five times as high, in Italy and Spain even around 30 times higher. Greece was 66th only three weeks ago in the infections found, now it is 85th.

Not least thanks to Sotiris Tsiodras. As head of the Corona Expert Commission of the Greek Ministry of Health, he played a key role in developing the strategy to contain the disease. The medical doctor, trained in Harvard and at MIT, has an international reputation as an expert in infectious diseases. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did not have to think long when he called the 55-year-old his special advisor for the corona epidemic in late 2019.

The emergency plans were ready weeks before the virus reached Greece. The government was able to act all the faster when the first case of infection was reported in Thessaloniki in northern Greece on February 26 – a 38-year-old businesswoman brought the virus with her from a trip from Milan. Mitsotakis immediately had the carnival parades planned for the following weekend banned – a very unpopular decision, but it signaled to the Greeks: It is getting serious!

Then things started to happen: on March 10, the government closed all kindergartens and schools. Immediately after the first Corona death on March 12, the government closed cinemas, museums, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms, and beaches. A week later, the retail stores and churches also had to close. On March 23, strict exit and travel restrictions followed, as well as the extensive cessation of air traffic abroad. All new cases of infection were consequently traced back and contact persons were quarantined.

The government had good reasons to react quickly: the pandemic hit Greece at a very bad time. After eight years of crisis in which the country lost more than a quarter of its economic strength, the state healthcare system is in a desolate state. There is a lack of staff everywhere. More than 20,000 doctors emigrated during the crisis. Often there is not even the most necessary material in the hospitals. When the first infection was reported, the state clinics only had 565 intensive care beds.

The Ministry of Health hired 4,200 additional doctors in record time and expanded the capacities of the intensive care units to 910 beds. This means that Greece is still undersupplied with 8.5 intensive beds per 100,000 inhabitants – the rate is 9.5 in Spain and 12.5 in Italy; Germany has even 34 intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants. But thanks to the government’s proactive crisis management, less than ten percent of the intensive care beds are currently needed for Covid-19 patients.

Of all places, Greece, which was considered a failed state during the euro crisis, is now doing exemplary work in the fight against the corona virus. “We are no longer the black sheep, and this is important for our collective self-confidence,” said Prime Minister Mitsotakis in an interview with the newspaper Kathimerini. In fact, it is surprising how disciplined most Greeks follow the restrictions – not a matter of course in a country where prohibitions usually do little and personal freedom seems to be the measure of all things. “We have matured,” Mitsotakis explains. “We are rebuilding something that was not only lacking in the debt crisis, but has suffered throughout our country’s recent history: trust – trust in the institutions and the state.”

Since Mitsotakis last July assumed the office of prime minister, one exceptional situation follows the next: First the refugee crisis, now Corona. Mitsotakis, educated at the elite universities in Harvard and Stanford, worked as an investment banker at Chase and as an analyst at the consulting firm McKinsey before going into politics in 2004. He brings good armor. Nevertheless, Mitsotakis admits: “I have learned a lot over the past few weeks: How quickly you have to make decisions, even if you don’t always have all the information; that you should trust the experts, but ultimately decide on your own responsibility; and that you always rely on the Hat, because situations often develop at a speed that we cannot imagine. ”

The political structure is stabilizing

The Greeks give their government good grades for crisis management. Almost eight out of ten respondents, according to a survey from mid-April, find the measures right. They think that just under ten percent are exaggerated. 63 percent see Mitsotakis as the more suitable head of government. Only 19 percent trust left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras to play this role. The conservative governing party Nea Dimokratia also benefits from successful corona management: the Conservatives have a 45 percent vote on the Sunday question. This increases their lead over Tsipras’ left-wing alliance Syriza from eight to 23 percentage points compared to the July 2019 election. Conclusion: Unlike in the debt crisis, which led to disruptions, the political structure in Greece stabilized in the Corona epidemic.

It remains to be seen whether this effect will last. Because the economic consequences of the crisis are devastating, the costs are immense. The government will spend at least 14 billion euros on economic support and short-time work benefits by the end of May, more than seven percent of gross domestic product. If the closings continue in June, the bill increases to at least 17 billion. The losses to Greece’s tourism, the most important pillar of the economy, cannot yet be estimated. Two out of three hoteliers fear that they will have to file for bankruptcy. 700,000 jobs in the tourism industry are at stake. Mitsotakis’ crisis manager is therefore still facing the real challenges.

And despite all the success, the dangers are Corona epidemic not banned yet. The virologist Sotiris Tsiodras warns that it is too early to give the all-clear: “If we make one mistake now, we will risk everything we have achieved so far.” The justification for the warning was shown on Monday: on the Peloponnese peninsula, a hotel occupied by 470 migrants had to be quarantined after a woman from Somalia accommodated there had a positive response to the Corona virus was tested.

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