I’ll say something about a nation who had indulged in all sorts of spellcasters, screamers and dispensers of prebends who had never heard of the most popular man today. Not one, outside his private and business circles. This man has a calm, almost feeble voice, he wears ordinary clothes and sometimes a little out of sorts, born in Australia, the son of emigrants, before the family returned to his country. came from the most humble condition to get to study and work at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but until a few weeks ago in Greece he lived as a stranger. The unknown Very few had heard of 54-year-old Professor Sotiris Tsiodras, until those days in February when it became clear from Lombardy that Covid-19 was starting its march on Europe. At that time Tsiodras, an infectious disease specialist from Athens with seven children and a passion for Byzantine religious hymns, decided to contact his government directly. In Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his team at Maximou, the premier’s residence behind Syntagma square in Athens, Tsiodras explained that they shouldn’t waste an hour more. Greece had no choice but to anticipate the virus before the virus overwhelmed it. More than ten years of austerity had weakened the health system and reduced the ICU wards to a state that would have made a wave of contagion in the country unmanageable if it had arrived. Today this infectious disease specialist is the fixed appointment of six in the afternoon for an entire nation glued to the TV. At the beginning, the right had courted him and the left looked at him with suspicion, just because of the halo of conservatism that comes to him from the Greek Orthodox faith and his seven children; then he had words of understanding for the Roma and refugees piled up in the Aegean islands, and everyone understood that Tsiodras does not belong to anyone. Only to the party of science and competence. The man of the moment does not divide, does not awaken envy, rather embodies a new sense of pride in a country that has shown itself to be more forward-looking, more willing to sacrifice and therefore more protected from the pandemic than the wealthy relatives of the European Union. When Tsiodras appears to the state TV sober, precise, full of sensitivity when he talks about the sick and the staff in hospitals. Above all, believed by everyone without saying a word. Without a shadow of the exhibitionism of some of the Italian experts. Light years away from the climate of reckoning and cross recriminations between authorities that mark everyday life under the virus in Italy. Greece today a suffering but pacified nation.
Mitsotakis, descendant of a family with four quarters of political nobility in Greece, but trained in Stanford and McKinsey, has the merit of having immediately understood that he had to anticipate the events instead of chasing them. Before the epidemic spread, the prime minister deployed one of the most timely, quickest and most radical lockouts in Europe: the University of Oxford index on the level of restriction of lockdown regimes last month put Italy on the high 68.7, Germany at 65 and Greece at 77. The results are there for all to see, even more remarkable given the fragility of a country whose income had fallen by 29% since 2009 (before a recovery in the very last years). Even if Greece failed to do so many tests, not having the means to obtain reagents in quantity, undoubtedly the fast reaction of the government worked: in the first half of May, in proportion to the population, the death toll was less than ten times that of Sweden, France or Italy and just over a tenth compared to the official one from Germany. In the three days around May 20, a country of over ten million inhabitants registered just 16 new cases and 22 patients in intensive care. Alex Patelis, economic adviser to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, explains that behind this choice there is a goal: The more successful a country is in fighting the pandemic, the stronger the recovery will be. Those who struggle to lift the lockdown will experience greater economic pressure, he says.
Now the recovery phase is slowly beginning with the reopening of the beaches. On June 1, in an area of Athens that remains a national secret for now, the first cinema in “drive in” mode begins. Above all in the middle of next month, Athens airport and from 1st July all Greek airports reopen to flights from Bulgaria, Germany and a list for now restricted to Northern European countries whose epidemiological data are deemed acceptable. Those who disembark will not be required to take a test or to undergo quarantine. Certainly a risk, but the country today has no other choice. Around the corner of this season of re-found cohesion and pride, the specter of poverty is reappearing for Greece. The European Commission expects 9.7% of the national product to fall this year, the deepest in Europe because of the country most affected by the epidemic. According to estimates by the Bank of Greece, tourism which for years had been the fastest growing item – last year, 17 million visitors – alone accounts for 18% of national income and for a fifth of the workforce. In 2020 it will probably be reduced to a fraction of what it was: thousands of souvlaki taverns, restaurants and probably even hotels may not start again, opening in the creditor banks new wounds when those of the great crisis have not yet closed again. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Greece was a slow healing country, which has grown twice as much as Italy in the past three years. Not long enough to build enough muscles to face the social devastation that is following the epidemic. The first government package launched a measure similar to the layoffs – € 800 per month – for a duration of no more than fifty days. Now it can be extended until autumn thanks to the European package that is being developed in Brussels, but the disproportion of means between Greece and other countries remains abysmal. The support plan initially implemented by Mitsotakis for a nation of ten million inhabitants is worth two thirds of Germany’s subsidy for a single company, Lufthansa. And even the new enlarged plans, which will take shape in the coming weeks, will always be less than the sum of the Berlin bailouts on the flag carrier and on the Tui tourism group. Mitsotakis in fact cannot guarantee credit for almost any of its large companies and may not have the resources to save the national carrier Aegean. So bring a strange air to Athens these days. There is no anger on the streets, or at least less than in recent years. You feel the bitter satisfaction of a people who have learned to appreciate the virtues enclosed in a word that even had exported to the world: stoicism. But stoicism can make poverty bearable, not erase it. For this we need Europe, which in Greece has made many mistakes in past years. He doesn’t even have to admit it. As long as it continues to act as in the last few months, trying to compensate them as it can
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