ATHENS – He's admitted having second thoughts but Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a tough lockdown he imposed early to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus has worked and proved Greece is no longer the European Union's whipping boy.
Battered by a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis, an accelerated recovery after the Aug. 20, 2018 end of three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($354.52 billion) was underway before COVID-19 hit.
While other countries such as Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain suffered horribly high numbers of pandemic cases and deaths, Greece has fared far better and has among the lowest in the world per capita.
He told Kathimerini that besides saving living lives that the response restored Greece's shattered image, turning around its reputation as the bad boy of the EU and as a country of layabouts who needed bailouts to prop up an economy undercut by generations of wild overspending and political patronage for decades.
“There are mornings when I wake up and think: Was it necessary? We expected a very good year financially in 2020, and I honestly thought we had left the crisis far behind us,” he told Kathimerini.
“What is consoling, however, is that we are no longer a special case. We are not a black sheep. And this, I believe, is of great importance for our collective psychology,” he added.
He told the paper that the country will begin to recover again in 2021, essentially admitting that 2020 is a wash-out with tourism dead in the water and unlikely to come back as the biggest revenue engine and savior during the austerity years.
Up to the April 19 Easter, Greece had 2,235 cases and 110 deaths for a country of 11 million people, the lowest per capita in Europe and among the lowest in the world in countries hardest hit.
He acknowledged the lockdown, that closed all non-essential businesses and with predictions from business groups that scores of thousands would likely never reopen, will take a brutal toll on the economy, with projections of 22 percent unemployment.
A deep recession this year – 2 percent grown had been expected - will be followed by strong growth in 2021, he estimated as in the midst of the pandemic Greece was still able to raise 2 billion euros ($2.17 billion) by selling seven-year bonds
“The fact that we dealt with this pandemic and its impact collectively, with a discipline which was unexpected by many, shows that we are resilient,” Mitsotakis was quoted as saying.
“We have matured and we are rebuilding something which was missing not only in the years of crisis but overall in the country’s recent history, which is trust, trust in the institutions and the state.”
His rapid response has also drawn praise from a number of fronts, including historians, an international think tank and analysts after he let medical and scientific data be the guidelines for the lockdown, unlike political responses in the United Kingdom and the United States whose leaders were slow to react.