Update from Greece

Athens, Greece
April 11, 2020
2,011 cases (up from 1,613 last week)
This was the week Greece started to get credit internationally for its good leadership and handling of the pandemic. A Bloomberg opt ed called Greece “a noticeable exception” and complimented the Greek government for taking fast, proactive measures in March. The government is now saying we might be able to start relaxing the quarantine measures by mid-May.  While this is great news, we’re all focused on trying to understand what life after the quarantine will look like and specifically how that will impact tourism, which Greece is heavily reliant on.  Some people believe we’ll have to go out of the euro and back to the drachma now.  Mostly we’re still in “wait and see” mode.


On a personal note, I’ve settled into this weird situation and am finding a good daily rhythm. But it’s fragile. Two days while I was waiting for a delivery to arrive I couldn’t go out for my morning walk with the dog and that really threw off my mood. But as long as I have my loose sequence of events intact every day, I’m finding my mood is stable and positive. And I’m getting more and more comfortable with all the ways to teach remotely so that’s been a positive thing. For all reading, I hope you are finding your rhythm too. 🙂


April 3, 2020
1,613 cases (up from 966 last week)
When I originally started these “updates from Greece,” my hope was that the situation in Greece might help my readers in the United States see what was coming.  In March, Greece was about 7-10 days ahead of the situation in the United States. But because the Greek government and the US government have taken very different containment strategies, this is no longer the case. As of April, the United States has a wide range of virus spread and containment with some areas like Greece and some much more accelerated. These updates are now more of a window into what it is like here in Greece.


Today the Greek government announced they are creating a 24-hour Covid-19 medical clinic system to support mild cases of the virus. They are also setting up a system with mobile nurse/doctor teams to allow people with mild symptoms to be treated in their homes.  This seems very smart as the cases are clearly growing and Greece doesn’t have a high number of hospital beds per capita. The government has a very carefully considered strategy which is helping a lot. Regardless of political alignment, almost everyone in Greece feels the Prime Minister Mitsotakis is doing a great job.


Regarding day to day life here, it is very calm. The quarantine, by and large, is being followed so Athens feels very empty. The mood is somber as we all understand that May 10th is the new target date to consider relaxing the restrictions. And people are very worried about the economy as Greece is highly reliant on tourism. On a personal note, this was the week I started finding my rhythm.  The dog gets walked, the meals get made, I have a few classes or Zoom sessions of some type each day. It’s much more solitary than before, but it’s ok. And I can already observe there will be a lasting psychological imprint from this quarantine, long after it ends…




March 27, 2020
966 cases  (up from 495 a week ago)
On Monday the government mandated  a police-enforced lockdown. Now we have to have to send an SMS to the police with our name, address and the corresponding code (there are six codes) for the reason we are out. Mine is always the same – #6, exercise or walking a pet. Oddly, I don’t mind it. It makes the rules super clear. There are police everywhere in my neighborhood so, at least where I’m at, they are taking it seriously.  Now we just wait. Our numbers are relatively “good” with under 1,000 confirmed cases  with a population of over 11 million. I’ve started using this resource from John Hopkins to track the curves.


This was the week that India, a country of 1.3 billion people went into lockdown with under 800 cases of the virus reported in the entire country. Why did they move so fast? Because in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, India lost between 12-17 million people (about 5% of their population). They remember that experience and understand what’s at stake. Other parts of the world don’t have this imprint and while the math is clear, it is still hard to accept what is happening. But the scientists and doctors are aligned in their message. Stay home.  To stay informed, I follow this doctor from the UK who posts a YouTube update each day. I watch it while I’m doing my core workout.  🙂


This week is when self-isolation started to feel like a long-distance run. We’re at two weeks into quarantine. The weather is rainy and cold which makes optimism harder. And anyone who is paying attention understands we have a long way to go still. An end date of Greek Easter on April 19th  is seeming very unlikely despite the fact a Greek Easter in social isolation will be extremely strange and hard on the people here. It is totally unclear what May or June will look like. My personal belief is we’ll be quarantined for all of April and if things go well, they’ll start loosening our restrictions sometime in May. I’m using Shanghai as my model. I also know as an Enneagram 7, I skew towards positive thinking so if we’re inside longer, it won’t shock me.


I’m finding some amount of structure and a simple rewards system is making self-isolation easier.  With the dog, I have to go outside at least twice a day–this really helps me keep perspective. If you can, go outside. Or better yet, foster a dog. Most days I teach yoga classes, create videos, have Enneagram typing interviews or have a business meeting of some sort. This helps me a lot too. With many of my friends, we have standing weekly Zoom calls so we stay connected.  Once a week I place an online order to improve my life–a volleyball, new covers for the sofas, something that makes me happy with it arrives.  And I order take-out food but only once a week so it becomes a special treat.


My friend Halina made a good point when she said “We should call is “spatial distancing” not “social distancing.”  She’s right-I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t spoken to in years and in many ways, this shared experience seems to be bringing many of us closer together.  A silver lining.  🙂


March 20, 2020
This week it was announced that all hotels will be shut down from March 23-April 30. All flights are grounded. All non-essential stores are closed. Self-isolation and social distancing have been in place since March 13th when Greece launched its “Μένουμε σπίτι”/Stay Home marketing campaign. The government has a plan and is being clear, measured and consistent in its communication, which is making a tough situation a little easier. That said, it feels like each day, the restrictions tighten and more things close.  As of this writing, we still have free movement.


The numbers
We all understand that the total number of reported cases is grossly unreported and actually represents the number of cases so severe, the person required medical attention.  That said, the trend in Greece is *slightly* optimistic and supports the idea that self-isolation is working. Here in Greece, we have the advantage of borders we can close and a total population of 11 million. I am not sure how containment will work with the US size, the lack of countrywide alignment and lack of hard borders between states.



When will this end?
It is difficult to say. There are many variables, and a lot of the future depends on how people behave now. Italy is modeling the worst scenario (currently). Shanghai is modeling a much more positive trend.


I asked my friend in Shanghai what the current situation is (March 20, 2020). Shanghai has a population of 12 million people and had less than 400 cases of the virus.  He writes “Basically, at this point the only new cases are from arriving international passengers. They are still allowing people to enter the country, but there is a very stringent process to go through to make sure that anybody that has the virus does not introduce it into the population here. After landing, it takes roughly 16-20 hours for passengers to go through the process. The majority of them will be allowed to go home and self-quarantine for 14 days. Some will have to do the quarantine at a facility (hotel). The home quarantine is being taken very seriously and most compounds are installing door sensors or cameras to ensure people do not break their quarantine. For people that have been here throughout the virus, life is basically back to normal. It is still a little quiet out, but all the factories are back up and running and the metro is crowded again.”


Some of you are asking me “What do I say to my friends who are not following the social distancing/stay home mandates?”
This is a tough one. I’m seeing a lot of yelling and screaming about this on Facebook. I don’t think that is effective. Most people are not following the mandates because they have not fully acknowledged reality and accepted the situation. There are a lot of reasons this might be true and I’m personally not wasting my energy on that aspect. I think what is helpful is to model an understanding of reality and acceptance of the situation.  I try to remind people:


–the fact you “feel fine” is irrelevant. Many people have the virus and are asymptomatic (show no signs of it). If you are in this category, you will likely never know. You will, however, be spreading the virus.
–the virus can live on surfaces for over 72 hours. If you go out and touch a surface that the virus is living on, it may be passed to you. You might start the day without the virus and end the day with the virus, just from touching something.
–the virus can be spread through the air. This is one of the reasons “social distancing” is imperative.
–the faster we can get the virus under control, the sooner we can end this period of self-isolation. Study Shanghai. They are about the size of Greece and a great example of what is possible.
I also think it is worth saying it is very hard to wrap our minds around what is happening. Scientists and doctors are struggling with it. It is human to be confused right now. Try to be nice to each other.  🙂


I’ve included below a chart of how events have unfolded thus far in Greece.  The US spread seems much more aggressive than ours here in Greece so I am not sure how much the restrictions will mirror each other but you in the US can use this as some data points. For anyone who is confused: this is not a two or three-week issue. It is months, not weeks.
total cases
new cases
% growth (new
cases/total cases from prior day)
March 11
schools, universities, daycare closed for at least 14 days
an announcement that all cultural activities closed (theatre, cinema, gyms, courts) starting March 13
March 13
Stay Home campaign started, announcement that all malls, dine-in restaurants, beauty parlors, libraries will close immediately
March 14
all seasonal hotels and rooms to rent ordered to close from March 15-April 30, (paid) beaches and ski resorts ordered to close
March 15
no plans from Spain or Italy are allowed, cruise ships can’t dock
an announcement that on March 18, all non-essential stores will close, self-quarantine of 14 days required for anyone arriving from outside of Greece
March 17
March 19
an announcement that all hotels in Greece will shut down from March 23-April 30, all flight grounded started Sunday, PM gave a nice speech calling for hard work (honoring the social distancing mandate) saying it will be hard, but not a nightmare, over the next two months and emphasizing the need for personal responsibility.


March 20
ferry travel cancelled except for island residents and supplies
I use this site to track the global numbers. If you haven’t already, please read this article “The Next Two Months Are Critical.”
Good luck and stay safe.

Athens, Greece
March 14, 2020
190 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Greece (up from 117 cases the day before).



As of today, malls, cafes, restaurants, food outlets, theatres, cinema, gyms and courts have been closed in an attempt to ensure large crowds don’t inadvertently spread the virus. Schools were closed several weeks ago. There has been no official announcement yet, but most of us assume an even wider shutdown will come over the next few days. This would entail the closure of all non-essential businesses.  At the moment, we are not anticipating a lockdown, where free movement is not allowed. The overall mood is concerned but calm. Most people seem to have fully accepted the need to stay in and limit activities that involve outside interactions. The organized and methodical approach by the government is helpful. The government has taken a proactive but staged approach and this gives us a little time to mentally readjust before the next wave of changes is implemented. That said, it is all unfolding quickly…


It is sunny these days in Greece and that is helping our psychology a lot. At the supermarket I go to, most products are adequately stocked (with the exception of hand sanitizer and gloves). People are mainly staying home or going outdoors alone or in small groups. Tour buses are still driving by my house but they are empty, and the streets feel largely deserted.  And the people I see on the street are mainly other people walking their dogs or pairs of tourists.


The general mood is that if we can crackdown for the next 6-8 weeks (possibly longer), the virus can be contained.  Most people seem to be clear about what we are trying to avoid (flatten the curve so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed like they are in Italy). Because Greece is so tourism-focused, the economic impact is severe, and this is really hard on everyone. With flights canceled, restaurants closing, events called off, etc. a lot of people are watching their income streams evaporate.  By way of example, my two Airbnb apartments were booked almost sold for March and April. They now are empty (which is correct, there is no reason for tourists to be coming right now).  For many people here, this rapid evaporation of income is devastating.


On the brighter side, many people are using this as an opportunity to re-invent their businesses. Online work is becoming the new normal and distance classes are becoming popular. And we remain optimistic that the virus will be contained over the next few months. We don’t think things will return to “normal” but we do think things will start to improve.


I found this article ”The next two months are critical, we need to flatten the curve”  by Dr. Christoforos Anagnostopoulos really helpful, balanced and relevant to all countries.


His message is “The next two months are critical. We will remember them for the rest of our lives. be very pessimistic in the short-run. But be unwaveringly optimistic for the long-term. ”

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