Lockdown in Athens
The first Covid-19 patients in Italy were detected at the end of January 2020. Although we all knew about the viral outbreak that had emerged in China in early December 2019, no one anticipated the speed with which the virus spread all over the world. Large clusters of positive cases were found in the northern part of the country and the Lombardy and Veneto regions were rapidly placed under quarantine.
Unfortunately, the lockdown did not stop the viral spread and within a few days the whole country was declared in a state of emergency. All non-essential industries and businesses, schools and universities were closed. At the beginning of March, 60 million people were placed under regulations for restricted movement. It was like living a sci-fi scenario.
As a virology Ph.D. student in a foreign country, I was very anxious waiting for information from the media. In the laboratory, we were all worried about the future. I wanted to continue my research, but I wanted to help with the health crisis, but I didn’t know how.
I left Rome just before the Italian lockdown and returned to my hometown, Athens. I wanted to be close to my family. At first, I thought I was leaving just for a few days, maybe a week, and then everything would go back to normal. I believed that the crisis would be over, and I would return to my life as it was. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A few days after I arrived in Athens, the number of Covid-19 cases in Greece was still very low. The Greek health system is weak, suffering from a 10-year economic crisis. In numbers it has six critical care beds per 100,000 capita of population, whereas the European average is 11.5. Therefore, the government decided to put strict measures into effect, similar to those in Italy, and lasting until the beginning of May, with a plan for a gradual lifting of the measures during the summer months.
Watching the news and reading the analyses on the impact of the pandemic around the world, it is hard not to turn to the broader questions around the pandemic. Why weren’t we better prepared for this? What made our societies so vulnerable to such threats? How can we help the weakest? What has to change?
Many reports highlight that social inequality has a negative effect on population health, affecting both access to health services and the impact of health inequality itself. To make societies more resilient to threats such as a global pandemic, we must make them fairer, with less inequality, less insecurity. We need strong welfare states, universal access to basic goods, a radical revision of the economic EU policies and more cohesion and solidarity among the EU member states.
Athens is quiet and the streets are empty. Everybody is planning for the better days that will come.
Magdalini Alexandridi is a Greek PhD based in Italy