ATHENS – The sudden onslaught of the deadly COVID-19 came just as Greece was beginning to speed out of a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis but has only “interrupted” it, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
He gave the assessment to the annual general assembly of the Hellenic Federation of Employers (SEV,), the country's largest group in the sector, hoping that a late-starting tourism season will hold off a worse debacle.
He brought a lockdown and stay-at-home order on March 23, before a single death, the closing of non-essential businesses helping bring one of the best records in the world in dealing with the pandemic.
But businesses shut as long as 10 weeks, as the government poured in 17.5 billion euros ($19.69 billion) in subsidies to laid-off workers and closed workplaces has taken a heavy toll on the economy that was on a course to grow as much as 2-3 percent, now shrinking.
He said his government's priority is to put a brake on firings, due to the effects of the lockdown, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, although he hasn’ offered a plan to hold down unemployment as many businesses closed for good during the lockdown.
The major rival Radical Left SYRIZA claimed he was bringing a recession, not a recovery, even before COVID-19 without mentioning they had been anti-business and driven away foreign investors, stymying major projects.
The first quarter of the year saw a contraction of 0.9 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), four times less than the Eurozone average, but most of the effect of the lockdown will be in the second quarter, although some international tourism began on June 15.