Greece / Timothy Edward Yeo
Greece should be praised for its rapid and early response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many other European countries, Greece began enforcing a lockdown before its first confirmed viral death. To protect the rights of its population the government has placed financial support networks to help those out of work, and to ensure social insurance support the health of the population.
Greece’s lack of sufficient intervention to help migrants is worth noting. With cases being reported within camps the government continues to neglect those who are already marginalised. The Greek government has the capacity on mainland to host tens of thousands of migrants in empty hotels for example. Thus, by not putting in measures to help these individuals, they violate their rights and discriminate against those who require care the most.
With an average of 4.2 hospital beds and 4.8 physicians per 1000 people, Greece has almost double the figures of the United Kingdom (3). Greece spends 8.4% of its GDP on health care, yet spending per capita was just one third of the European Union average (4). Whilst the country’s healthcare system is a model for universal care, where it is provided through national health insurance, out of pocket payments (OOPP) still make up 35% of health spending as of 2017 (4).
Despite Greece’s decade of debt, the government has quickly mobilised the country and implemented social measures to combat the threat. The swift response has meant it has so far avoided the crisis other European nations have faced (5).
Civil and Political Rights
Social distancing and closure of public spaces has been the mainstay in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 10th 2020, before the country’s first confirmed coronavirus death, Greece took its first step in beginning social isolation: announcing the closure of all schools and universities for a minimum of two weeks (7). Just two days later, the government took further steps announcing closure of public places including theatres, courts, and gyms, amid fears of the viral spread (8).
After these measures were put in place, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated the country would be going into lockdown as of the 23rd March. This lockdown prohibited all nonessential transport and movement of people, with Greeks only being allowed to leave their homes to walk a pet, visit a doctor, or to buy food and medicine (9). These measures undoubtedly saved many lives.
Nonetheless, large migrant camps on the Greek islands are vastly overcrowded, with limited access to life’s essentials. Almost 40,000 asylum seekers and refugees reside in camps in Lesbos, Chios, Kos, and Samos, nearly 10 times more than the intended capacity (11). With pressures also coming from Turkey, where the country has deported thousands of irregular migrants across the Greek border illegally, the migrant crisis continues to rise.
Migrants in these camps face heightened risks of coronavirus infection. The islands hosting migrants have limited access to running water, are severely overcrowded, and have insufficient medical and nursing professionals (14). As stated above, the conditions of the migrant camp make abiding by quarantine guidelines impossible, whilst simultaneously the lack of allocating essential resources in these migrant camps removes their right to adequate living, and health.
Enforcing a lockdown including social distancing measures of 2 metres apart in such crowded environments are nigh impossible, meaning an outbreak of coronavirus within these communities would lead to many preventable deaths (11).
Amnesty International strongly recommends to move migrants from these camps to the mainland, providing them with accommodation and access to healthcare (11).
The lockdown laws Greece has passed indirectly discriminate against these large migrant groups and those being detained in immigration centres. These groups cannot follow a quarantine lifestyle.
Not until March 21st, once a quarantined migrant tested positive for the virus in a camp near Athens, did the situation of mass viral spreading become apparent (12). Unfortunately, despite pleas from a governor of three Aegean islands and from national migrant organisations to ‘immediately remove’ all camp residents to the mainland, the government in Athens has continued to rule this out as a possibility (12).
The government further announced it would be denouncing irregular migrants of their right to claim asylum, and will facilitate their immediate deportation (where possible) to their host country. Simultaneously, the government detained 450 migrants on a naval vessel travelling to Greece in order to seek asylum (13). According to first hand reports, the large group of people were forced to sleep on the floor of the vessel, and did not receive enough food and supplies to maintain their health (13).
Economic and Social Rights
The toll COVID-19 will have on Greece’s economy will be extremely detrimental. The pandemic hits the country during a time of recovery and economic growth, with price competitiveness reforms increasing Greece’s exports despite sluggish demand (17). As of 2019, employment level was at its highest since 2010, with numbers rising by over 300 000 since 2015 (18).
Greece’s tourism industry represents 20% of the country’s GDP, generating almost €37 billion in 2018 alone (19). Workers in this industry will find themselves out of work due to quarantine, not knowing if it will last into the tourist booming months of summer.
To financially support those who are out of work the Greece government announced, in March, a one-off financial aid of €800 for employees (20). On top of this, to ensure people do not go without financial support, they have announced a suspension of VAT debt payments, and suspension of social security contributions (20).
It has been noted the Greek state will fully cover all pension and health rights of workers, with compensation covering approximately 500,000 workers costing around €400 million (21).
Timothy Edward Yeo is a medical student currently studying an intercalated degree in Global Public Health at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
- The World Bank. Physicians (per 1,000 people) – United Kingdom [Internet]. [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.MED.PHYS.ZS?locations=GB
- OECD, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, European Commission. State of Health in the EU – Greece. 2017.
- Giugliano F. Greece Handled Coronavirus Crisis Better Than Italy and Spain – Bloomberg [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-10/greece-handled-coronavirus-crisis-better-than-italy-and-spain
- OHCHR. OHCHR | International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [Internet]. [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx
- Kampouris N. Greece Closes All Schools and Universities for Two Weeks Amid Coronavirus Fears | GreekReporter.com [Internet]. Greek Reporter. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://greece.greekreporter.com/2020/03/10/greece-closes-all-schools-and-universities-for-two-weeks-amid-coronavirus-fears/
- Yeung J, Renton A, McKenzie S, Wagner M. March 12 coronavirus news – CNN [Internet]. CNN. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-03-12-20-intl-hnk/h_4cfcda52c43e7cb0dadea04275a201e4
- Stamouli N. Greece to go into coronavirus-induced lockdown [Internet]. Politico. 2020. Available from: https://www.politico.eu/article/greece-to-go-into-coronavirus-induced-lockdown/
- Tugwell paul. Coronavirus in Greece: Mitsotakis Says Gradual Return Expected – Bloomberg [Internet]. Bloomberg. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-13/the-return-to-a-normal-life-will-be-gradual-mitsotakis-says
- Amnesty International. Greece: Urgently protect refugees from COVID-19 [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/greece-refugees-coronavirus-covid-19/
- DW. Coronavirus surfaces in Greek migrant camp [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-surfaces-in-greek-migrant-camp/a-52999309
- Human Rights Watch. Greece/EU: Allow New Arrivals to Claim Asylum [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/10/greece/eu-allow-new-arrivals-claim-asylum
- Human Rights Watch. Greece: Move Asylum Seekers, Migrants to Safety [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/24/greece-move-asylum-seekers-migrants-safety
- Donald H. Greece uses state TV to teach school children during coronavirus lockdown [Internet]. Euronews. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/31/greece-uses-state-tv-to-teach-school-children-during-coronavirus-lockdown
- BBC News. Greece bailout crisis 27 June 2015: As it happened [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-europe-33299311
- OECD. Greece Economic Forecast Summary 2019. 2019 Nov.
- Plecher H. Greece – Employment 2020 [Internet]. Statista. 2019 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/276414/employment-in-greece/
- Luty J. Greece: travel & tourism’s total GDP contribution 2012-2028 [Internet]. Statista. 2019 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/644573/travel-tourism-total-gdp-contribution-greece/
- Keep Talking Greece. Greece €3.8bn-injection against coronavirus: €800 for workers, tax suspension [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2020/03/18/greece-coronavirus-financial-measures/
- Kokkinidis T. Greece Offers 800 Euros to Employees Affected by Coronavirus Closures [Internet]. Greek Reporter. 2020 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://greece.greekreporter.com/2020/03/18/greece-offers-800-euros-to-employees-affected-by-coronavirus-closures/
- Fisher J. Hundred days of Myanmar’s democracy – BBC News [Internet]. BBC News. 2016 [cited 2020 May 3]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36732270