The negation of Greek particularity

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

When the story of the corona-virus pandemic of 2020 will be told (we are living through its first stage, don’t be fooled) we will re-discover aspects of the crisis we are missing in the heat of the fight. Nearing full lock-down in Greece and tracking day-by-day the measures taken by the Government – the persuasion campaign undertaken to ensure that “Stay at home!” becomes more than a slogan and the prevailing realities of social distancing – one feels the temptation to compare with decisions and with behavior patterns in other countries.

To start with Italy: lock-down measures have matured to circulation bans in Lombardy/the heavily struck region in northern Italy (not in the unruly South), but a spot-check of mobile phones GPS has shown that almost 40% of people were circulating in far wider circles than one would expect with. Lock-down rules in place.

In disciplined Germany, Chancellor Merkel in person adopted dramatic tones (first having leaked that her solemn Covid-19 address to the people was the first ever in her 15 years in office) to try and dissuade her own countrymen and -women from strolling and sunbathing at the parks – to little avail. People were elbowing each other aside at supermarkets to get access to scarce disinfectants, pasta and toilet paper (in Germany, not in Mediterranean countries…); disinfectant tended to vanish even in academic venues – not all of them closed down.

In the UK, where official policy tried at first to go the way of “herd immunity” but officials lost their nerve after little more than one week and shifted towards the continental model of selective lock-downs, supermarkets became battlegrounds; the angst of the nurse weeping because she could not stop for essentials once her shift was over went viral, but appeals to the community to behave more rationally (and leave some room to NHS people to keep fighting the virus) went unheeded.

Overall, in countries where social distancing was already the rule rather than the exception crisis measures seemed to bite with delay. Also, whenever shopping is traditionally at a just-in-time basis (buying for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner) the rush to stock-pile caused important disruption to retail chains.

So, while in Greece we do have a tendency to lament our lack of discipline and our tendency to over-react in crisis situations, maybe we are not so far from the “European” norm. Of course Chinese, South Korean and Taipei lock-down (and enforcement…) practices are far more drastic – and thus effective. But, be honest: would one really go that way?