In its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Greece has a lot to be proud of and its swift early reaction to the threat that the virus has posed should be something better resourced countries should have emulated says a leading Greek academic who specialises in public administration issues.

Associate Professor at Queen Mary University of London and Panteion University, Athens, Dr Stella Ladi said the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the lack of resilience of some systems when compared to others.

And Greece has shown admirable resilience despite the ravages of the past decade of deep financial crisis and a comparative lack of resources  compared to richer nations.

And this week it was able to announce the limited resumption of some businesses as well as a plan for reopening of high schools next month. A strict adherence to hygiene and social distancing will be imposed.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also announced the opening of retail businesses under strict hygiene and social distancing provisions.

When it comes to administrative systems coping under crisis, Dr Ladi is an expert who has made her field of study include the Eurozone crisis, public policy and public administration reforms, Europeanization, global public policy and transnational administration and the role of experts in public policy.

According to a New York Times article published on 28 April, just 69,833 people were tested for the virus in Greece. The country’s health care system that had been ravaged by the financial crisis of the past 10 years was in a precarious situation.

The fact that Greece  has one of the oldest and therefore most  vulnerable populations to Covid-19 in Europe added to the fear that things were going to get badly out of hand. But they didn’t.

Despite the fact that relatively few people of the full population were tested, there have been just 138 deaths due to Covid-19. This week there were just 2,566 Covid-19 cases reported.

In neighbouring Italy it has been horrific with 27,682 deaths reported so far, and Spain with 24, 275 dead. Even Sweden, with its superb health care system, has reported 20,302 cases and 2,462 deaths. Greece’s performance in the pandemic has been remarkable.

“Because of the previous crisis the people were better prepared to react and the country’s leadership worked very quickly (when the news that Covid-19 was spreading beyond China earlier this year) compared to others who were reacted very slowly” said Dr Ladi.

“In Greece everything happened very quickly,” said Dr Ladi of the preparations for lockdown. Greece quickly increased its intensive care facilities and recruited more hospital staff.

The New York Times noted that the day after the first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed, 27 February, the government cancelled the Apokries festival in Thessaloniki and two days after that the shutdown began of restaurants and public institution and flight limits were imposed. Two-week quarantines wre the order of the day for anyone coming from abroad.

One example Dr Ladi cited was the fact that even though the universities were not properly primed to deliver courses via the internet, they were able to offer all their course modules online within a week.

“The stoicism of the people in this time of crisis helped to bring about the swift changes demanded to counter the spread of the virus.

“The government’s communication strategy with the people has been very important. Every evening at 6pm there is an announcement by the chief medical adviser (Dr Sotiris Tsiodras)  on all the developments (in curtailing Covid-19) and this is then followed by an address by Deputy Minister of Civil Protection and Crisis Management, Nikos Hardalias, who explains what has been happening.”

“They have been also following all social media closely and have responded to fake news quickly,” said Dr Ladi.

She said the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also taken a strong position and this week he was to explain to the country how it will begin to move away from lockdown and for economic life to begin to open up.

“It is a very fragile situation and small mistakes could lead to the reopening the door for further infections. But I am confident that it will be handled well.

She said that were few countries who could lead the way in reopening activities and cited Austria and Denmark as two countries whose policies in containing the disease have worked so far and which were now at the point of returning to normality.

“Public policies are following the science but the scientists themselves are still studying Covid-19.

“For Greece the big challenge is whether to open up enough to allow limited tourism into the country. They are looking at ways of testing people for Covid-19 before they board the plane to come to Greece and they may have to have a special document to show they are free of the virus,” said Dr Ladi.

If the tourists do come it will be from European countries where the presence of Covid-19 is declining and not from international destinations.

“If Greece cannot resume tourism, it will be devastating to the economy. The money it raises will be needed to raise capital to support other sectors of the economy and the population.

Up to now, she said, the strategy has been clear:”health first, then the economy” but now Greece will need to open up and doing so risks opening up to another outbreak which would be devastating.”

Dr Ladi said there were lessons to be learnt from the Covid-19 experience.

“Greece realised its weaknesses and was honest about them, namely that its health system would not be able to cope with a pandemic and that it had to come up with an alternative strategy. It was important to acknowledge that weakness.”

In contrast, she said, Sweden had followed a more risky strategy of only partial lock-down because they were confident that their health system would be able to cope.

“Also important was the mentality of the (Greek) people who were able  to make the necessary changes to adjust.”

“This might have been a health crisis but other parts of government also reacted and were mobilised to deal with this crisis.

“Also important was the mentality of the people who were able  to make the necessary changes to adjust.”

She said Sweden’s scientists had said closing borders would do nothing to halt Covid-19 but in the case of Greece limiting travel to residents of remote areas and the islands stopped Covid-19 from getting to such places where treatment would not have been possible.

Another positive aspect of the Covid-19 experience was the high level of cooperation and sharing of knowledge between the nations of the world.

READ MORE: Five possible reasons for Greece’s rise from ‘black sheep’ to a shining example in its handling of the coronavirus crisis

She said another aspect of the pandemic was the ability to continue to contribute to work from home.

“The technology has always been there and we did not exploit it more in the past …  I do not think any of us to stay at home to work.

“I am working for the university from home and there are very few things that I cannot do from here. But academic work has involved people meeting and talking directly to people.

“I have held webinars and online lectures but I have found them more intense and tiring.”

She said there were not the usual light moments between colleagues after a lecture instead one went from web event to the next without break.

Whatever happens, next she said, it must happen with great care.

“The doctors are advising whatever we do. They are talking of opening the courts as a start, then check after two weeks. The process will be slow and gradual because a sudden reversal will be very expensive.”

Dr Stella Ladi, Associate Professor at Queen Mary University of London and Panteion University, Athens Photo: Supplied