If tensions with Turkey and the coronavirus are Greece’s two biggest challenges right now, it is safe to say that the government has scored points in the former but is slipping in the latter.
Greece may appear to be doing better than many other countries in managing the health crisis in overall numbers, but let’s not fool ourselves that the relatively low death toll is anything but the result of the government’s swift response in March. The opposite is the case today with the second wave. The virus is galloping ahead and we’re struggling to keep up. From March to late August, the virus claimed 260 lives in Greece. In September alone, it claimed more than 100. What’s more, the second wave is only just starting. In Attica alone, there are already more than 1,000 recorded active cases, which means that the real figure is probably above 10,000. How can we hope to flatten the curve?
The government, unfortunately, can see the tsunami coming, but instead of responding boldly as it did in March by adopting serious measures, it is holding discussions and meetings. No one says the country should be put into lockdown again, but the longer we delay measures like universal mask use, curfews, banning gatherings in public squares and Holy Communion, and closing bars, the more inevitable a lockdown will become.
Apart from this hesitation, the absence of an aggressive information campaign about the virus and its dangers is also sowing confusion among the public, many of whom continue to believe that the health crisis is a hoax fabricated by big pharma.
In contrast to the health crisis, Greece is reaping significant gains from its confrontation with an aggressive Turkey. Far from suffering any damage from the provocative forays of the Turkish fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and the barrage of immoderate remarks by Turkish officials against Greece, the country proved capable of responding effectively on land and at sea. It did so by fending off the wave of thousands of asylum seekers unleashed by Ankara on the Evros border and by preventing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from asserting his maritime claims.
By staying calm and serious, by avoiding excessive positions and by some clever diplomatic footwork, Athens has succeeded in rallying the support of many important actors: from France, Italy and the rest of the European Union, to Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Not only have they openly supported Greece’s sovereign rights and even sent navy ships to the Eastern Mediterranean; they have also pushed Erdogan, hard, to ease the tension and cut the bullying before he’s slapped with sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Greece, without even a stop in Turkey, sent a clear message to Erdogan and demonstrated that Greece’s persistence in following the letter of international law is paying off once more.