Greece Faces Economic Crisis As It Combats Coronavirus Outbreak

May 4, 2020
Originally published on May 4, 2020 1:08 pm
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(SOUNDBITE OF STELIOS KERASIDIS' "ISOLATION WALTZ")

NOEL KING, HOST:

That is 7-year-old Greek piano prodigy Stelios Kerasidis playing his "Isolation Waltz." The song has become a hit in Greece. That country locked down six weeks ago, and it has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. But Greece is not without problems. It's facing the prospect of economic ruin again. Here's Joanna Kakissis.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Six weeks of quarantine takes its toll on a country of extroverts. Now, finally, Greeks are leaving their homes and making plans.

VICKI TZAVARA: Going to a nice restaurant with my husband.

YOLANDA MOUZAKITI: Going to an open-air cinema.

NIKOS ZARGANIS: Go out and walk in the center of the city because I love Athens.

KAKISSIS: That's secretary Vicki Tzavara, high school student Yolanda Mouzakiti and retired architect Nikos Zarganis.

Over the next few weeks, schools, shops, churches and archeological sites will reopen. Restaurants will, too, including this one co-owned by Eleni Klavdianou, who feared the worst when COVID-19 hit Greece.

ELENI KLAVDIANOU: No one was confident that the government could actually deal with it properly because of all our previous experiences. We are not famous for our organization skills and crisis management, let's say.

KAKISSIS: Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis surprised her. He avoided political theatricals and put respected epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras in charge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Greek).

KAKISSIS: Dr. Tsiodras is now so popular that Greeks are even writing songs about him. Every evening, he briefs Greeks on the latest pandemic news.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SOTIRIS TSIODRAS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: He thanks them for following the rules and urges them to stay vigilant. It's crucial because Greece cannot afford another lockdown. It's just recovering from a decade-long economic depression.

SOTIRIA THEODOROPOULOU: It is indeed the one country that visibly had no margin for maneuvering.

KAKISSIS: Sotiria Theodoropoulou is an economist with the European Trade Union Institute in Brussels.

THEODOROPOULOU: The kind of policies that one needs right now, Greece is in the worst possible position to carry them forward.

KAKISSIS: The economy is expected to shrink up to 9% this year. Unemployment could return to 22%. Eleni Klavdianou says her restaurant was thriving before the pandemic. Now its future looks precarious.

KLAVDIANOU: The only thing you can do is keep fighting for it because there is no other option, really.

KAKISSIS: She likens the Greeks' dilemma to the myth of Sisyphus, the ancient king who pushed a giant boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

(SOUNDBITE OF STELIOS KERASIDIS' "ISOLATION WALTZ") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.