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Thu 4 June 2020
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James Melville reports on how Greece, by adopting foresight rather than hindsight, has a fraction of COVID-19 deaths per capita compared to Britain

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“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain.”- William Blake 

As the UK continues to show the steepest death rate curve in Europe, largely because of a complete failure by the government to implement measures to get ahead of the spread of the virus, there are a number of examples across Europe where countries have managed to get ahead of the curve. For instance, Greece, where they appear to reap the rewards of a rapid response strategy to curb the spread of the virus.
Greece has a population of just over 11 million, and as of Wednesday, there were 2,170 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 101 fatalities, far lower than in most European countries. 

Greece has a high elderly population with often multi generational household communities that are comparable to other Mediterranean countries such Italy and Spain and faced huge concerns over their ability to cope with the COVID-19 economic fallout — after almost a decade embroiled in a debt crisis, in which its economy contracted by 26%  and public services were savagely hit by austerity (including healthcare systems).

In late February, before Greece had even recorded its first death, carnival parades were cancelled.

Greece appeared to be vulnerable to a major public health and economic crisis during the pandemic. Greece only had 560 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the entire country.
Instead, incredibly, Greece appears to have avoided the tragic numbers of cases and deaths seen in Italy and Spain. And it’s largely down to hitting the virus hard and hitting the virus early.

Because of severely compromised and undersupplied critical health care supplies, Greece couldn’t consider adopting any form of mitigation strategy, or consider the now-debunked “herd immunity” UK and Sweden strategy because their healthcare systems simply wouldn’t be able to cope. So instead, they moved swiftly to nip the spread of the virus in the bud.  

COMPARE AND CONTRAST AS OF 15 APRIL, 2020

Population of Greece 10.72 million. Population of UK 66.65 million.

  • UK (without care homes) deaths =  12,868 (0.02% of the population)
  • Greece total deaths = 102 (0.0001% of the population)
  • UK Coronavirus Cases = 98,476
  • Greece Coronavirus Cases = 2,192

Before the first case of Coronavirus was diagnosed in Greece, they had already started examining and testing people and then isolating those who were infected. Incoming flights, especially from China, were monitored and airport quarantining programmes in nearby hotels were set up.

Greece’s entire strategy to combat COVID-19 became what their prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, described as “state-sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve and swiftness”. This swiftness of response also applied to rapid social distancing enforcement and early lockdowns.

In late February, before Greece had even recorded its first death, carnival parades were cancelled. On 10 March, schools were ordered closed and within days, bars, restaurants, concerts, clubs, cinemas and theatres were also shut. Greece then imposed a full lockdown on 23 March, much earlier than many other European countries.

Supermarkets introduced crowd-control measures, where everyone required a numbered pass upon entering to ensure that there was only one person per every 15 square metres. Everyone leaving their home had to carry a form detailing their reason to be out. Regular police patrols monitored public movements and €150 fines were issued to those who were found to be breaking the social distancing regulations.

Greece also developed early digital responses to fight the spread of the virus. The government announced it was implementing a digital rollout to protect public health. One of the first things Greece did to limit the minimise the need for people to leave their homes was to enable them to receive prescriptions on their mobile phones. This measure prevented 250,000 people in Greece from making visits to the doctor in the space of just three weeks. Greece has also managed to almost double their number of hospital ICUs since the crisis began. 

Greece has shown the UK the benefits of adopting foresight rather than hindsight in dealing with a major health crisis. But, it comes with one caveat. Greece has two refugee camps quarantined after there were positive tests for coronavirus. They are not out of the woods quite yet.

But Greece have shown that adopting a strategy of rapid response is the key to curbing the spread of COVID-19. The quicker a country deals with a major health crisis, the quicker the crisis is resolved, and the greater the health and economic benefits in the long term.

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