Greece’s initial success in curbing COVID-19 turned the country from a black sheep into the shining example of Europe – but the reverse is true in the second wave.
Following a relatively carefree summer, the daily death tally now hovers near the three-digit mark and is still high. In fact, within 40 days, more than 2,500 coronavirus-related deaths in Greece have caused some to say the “success story” of the first phase of the pandemic was just a fluke.
Experts paint a grim picture. Dr Petros Pappas, head of the Emergency Department at the General Hospital of Kilkis in Northern Greece, points to the government’s “negative example of crisis management”, Dr Vasileios Margaritis of Walden University states the government’s strategy is “confused” and Dr Stella Ladi, Associate Professor at Queen Mary University of London and Panteion University in Athens warns of lockdown fatigue and people making “compromises”.
Dr Pappas, on leave after testing positive to COVID-19 along with 60 other personnel from the hospital, told Neos Kosmos “the second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece showed that the government and the health system was unprepared” and he describes a chaotic situation at one of the hardest-hit areas of the country during the pandemic. Without a central oxygen system, medical staff on the frontline of the pandemic are forced to use mobile tanks to provide medical aid to patients.
He said that Greece’s initial response had the appearance of success due to the fact that it “occurred during a period of low mobility of population in the region” hence there was “no serious dispersion” to warrant concern.
“After a summer of mainly loose measures and mostly uncontrolled touristic flows, the dispersion of the infection since October in Greece showed that ‘the king was naked’,” Dr Pappas said.
On the frontlines of the crisis, he has witnessed serious problems. “The lack of planning and organisation, the small number of ICU beds, the lack of workforce in the public health sector and the reluctance of the Greek government to call forth the private health sector led Greece to become once again a negative example of crisis management among the European Union countries,” he said.
Dr Margaritis, a member of Senior Faculty in Public Health Doctoral Programs at Walden University in the USA, told Neos Kosmos that the decrease in COVID-19 infections in Greece is occurring at a very slow rate with deaths at a very high level.
“Regarding the government, it seems to be confused about the exact strategy that we need to follow to address this second wave and it orders conflicting measures, which was not the case in the very decisive and effective approach we had last spring,” he said.
“In brief, the government’s main issues are: the lack of expanded random pooled testing and valid surveillance data or any other preventive system that could help us to better predict and address this catastrophic second wave; the implementation of a partial, country-wide and inconsistent lockdown, which triggers the spread of the virus, negatively affects the economy and enhances the health and educational inequities; and finally, it failed to convince the public that simple but very effective public health measures (wearing a mask, social distancing, regular handwashing, isolation of vulnerable populations) are a realistic way to limit the spread of the virus,” he said, while also warning that the country’s currently bad COVID-19 status, especially in the northern part of the country, will be very hard to quickly reverse due to inadequate preventative measures and limitations of the availability of hospital beds and ICU’s.
“Finally, we need to have nationally expanded random pooled testing on a regular basis and ideally 24-hour turnarounds for test results, so if a person tested positive they could quickly isolate, as is the case in many countries, for example, Victoria, Australia,” he said, while also calling for ” a ‘light lockdown’ at least until spring to prevent outdoor and indoor super spreader events” at public spaces like theatres, stadiums and malls.
While Dr Margaritis states that there is no evidence that the virus has mutated, he said the second wave has been experienced differently by different regions.
“Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Ireland are doing much better this time, mostly due to the very good surveillance system they applied and the timely preventive measures,” he said.
“Also the low temperatures in the northern hemisphere enhance the spread of many seasonal viruses (SARS-COV2 included) and force people to stay indoors.”
At the start of the pandemic, Dr Ladi had told Neos Kosmos that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the lack of resilience of some systems when compared to others and pointed to Greece’s admirable resilience despite the ravages of the past decade of deep financial crisis and a comparatively lack of resources.
Asked to tell us what has gone wrong during the second wave, she points to “the limits of lockdown” in Greece.
“Citizens seem to be more used to living with the virus and as a result they make more compromises when they implement the measures imposed by the government. I don’t think much more could be done at this stage and I don’t think it’s a matter of strict reinforcement,” she said.
While Dr Ladi said that other Western countries have struggled, Dr Margaritis finds Wester-type lockdowns are ineffective as people feel lockdown fatigue while also suffering financially,
As for Dr Pappas, the battle against COVID-19 is all too real.
“The current situation, especially in Northern Greece, can be described as tragic and the long winter ahead of us brings terror to the population,” he said, bracing himself for a long battle ahead.