To build consensus in Greece may be a miracle; to keep it standing is quite another business

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Greeks have been quite proud to see their country named in international media among those constituting “corona best practice” at a global level – alongside Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Singapore and Israel (the last two are not necessarily the nicest company: their stringent policing measures do not exactly fit European fundamental rights standards). Policies implemented in Greece are a credit to the authorities, but consensus has played a crucial role at two levels. First, scientists, biologists, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists etc. have been able to build among themselves a consensus as to the track to follow, and so have provided the Government with advice – which has been followed, with little political watering-down. Second, there has been an over-arching consensus among the population that the lock-down approach adopted and the implementation routines followed were worth the trouble – to deliver better protection and life-saving results.

But good things can last only so much. So, now that getting the economy – and social life, which is even more important – back to some sort of normal gets near, keeping the consensus proves less and less easy. Starting from personal safety measures (with mask-wearing at the fore-front) and going over to social-distancing routines that should be followed (e.g. in schools when they open, to cafés or restaurants when their turn comes) Greek scientists have started voicing dissenting opinions. The same was visible when the question arose at which level to start the schools: younger children are less vulnerable to Covid-19 , so primary schools or even kindergartens should normally open first; but secondary education school-children, especially those close to University-entrance exams, constitute more of a pressure group (along with their parents, to be true). So … where to start? Nothing close to consensus here.

Scientists were more scientifically split over matters like treatment protocols to be followed, or medicine to be used on Covid-19 patients. The respective merits and drawbacks of Chloroquine and Hydroxycloroquine – a venerable drug used to combat malaria or arthritis – dispensed along with Azithromycin, of Revdesivir or of retrovirals – as those used to combat HIV – soon had their vocal champions and their staunch opponents (Gilead, the company producing Remdesivir made public its own reservations as to the limitations of this experimental drug).

Needless to say, when hard-science practitioners start voicing their diverging opinions and when the media have made of themselves echo-chambers of scientific opinion (or even rumour), than the days of consensus as a basis for public policy formation start to look limited.