GREECE: THE HANDLING OF COVID-19
The measures put in place in Greece are some of the most proactive and strict in Europe and have been acknowledged for containing the spread of the disease and keeping the number of fatalities at relatively lower levels. Currently, the numbers locally are lower than other EU member states of similar size and this is the result of prompt governmental action, as well as the response and collaboration of businesses and citizens. Below follows a summary of the actions taken health/safety wise, the immediate response with financial measures for businesses and employees during current lockdown, and the support packages for the restart of the economy, as a result of important cooperation and collaboration across the public and the private sectors.
Health and safety measures for a controlled outbreak
Following the confirmation of the first three cases in Greece, on 27 February, all events in the country were initially cancelled, and by 10 March a total of 89 cases had been confirmed in the country, mainly related to people who had travelled to Italy and a group of pilgrims who had travelled to Israel and Egypt, as well as their contacts. Health and state authorities issued precautionary guidelines and recommendations, while measures up to that point were taken locally and included the closure of schools and the suspension of cultural events in the affected areas (particularly Ilia, Achaea and Zakynthos). A timeline of events:
On 10 March, due to the outbreak of the virus in different parts of the country and failure by many to comply with the restrictive measures, the government decided to suspend the operation of educational institutions of all levels nationwide.
On 13 March, to close down all cafes, bars, museums, shopping centres, sports facilities and restaurants in the country.
On 16 March, all retail shops were also closed, two villages in north western Greece were quarantined, and all services in all areas of religious worship of any religion or dogma were suspended. Additionally, Greek authorities announced that all travelers, regardless of nationality, will be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival to the country from abroad to prevent further spread of the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus disease.
As of March 23 all hotels and resorts in the country have suspended operation, currently until April 30th and travel restrictions have been imposed between countries that are greatly affected by Covid-19, namely Italy, Spain, Turkey, Great Britain, Holland and others.
On 22 March the Greek authorities announced significant restrictions on all nonessential transport and movement across the country. Movement outside the house is permitted only for specific reasons that include moving to or from the workplace, shopping for food or medicine, visiting a doctor or assisting a person in need of help and exercising outside individually or in pairs, among other reasons. Citizens leaving their home are required to carry their police ID or passport, as well as some type of attestation depending on the purpose of travel. The Hellenic Police, the Municipal Police, the Hellenic Coast Guard and the National Transparency Authority are empowered to enforce the restrictions and can issue fines for each offense.
As a result Greece currently maintains a controlled spread of the pandemic, reporting on April 9th : 1884 COVID-19 cases, 83 fatalities and 84 in ICUs (since April 7th the number of people in intensive care seems to be decreasing).
Financial measures for businesses and employees: A series of measures of more than 10 billion euros to support the economy, businesses and employees.
The relief actions include suspending current tax obligations (until the 31st of August) and current social security contribution payments (for 6 months); subsidies of up to 1 billion euros depending on losses and jobs retained; some 500,000 employees not working due to closure are eligible for 800 euros in April and a four-month deferment in tax payments, which also applies to self-employed individuals; 1.8 billion euros from the European Investment Fund will go towards the support of business liquidity, employment and salaries; VAT will be reduced to 6 percent from the current 24 percent on products in high demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, including such items as masks, gloves, soap etc; property taxes for 2020 (ENFIA) will remain at current levels with new real estate values to take effect as of 2021; and Greek banks will be suspending the repayment of performing business loans at least until September 30. It is noted that businesses will receive state support provided that they all keep staff (no layoffs allowed). The Greek government has also approved the subsidisation of interest payments of loans that were up to date until 31/12/19, for the months of April, May, June – extendable for another two months.
Additional to that, Greece expects lower borrowing costs on account of an emergency assets purchases’ programme launched by the European Central Bank (ECB). The bank just launched new bond purchases worth 750 billion euros ($816.90 billion) at an emergency to stop a pandemic-induced financial rout from shredding the euro zone’s economy and renew concerns about the bloc’s viability. Greece will be included in the program for the first time since the country was shut out of previous ECB buys because of its low credit rating.
It is worth noting that according to a latest survey published on April 3rd, there is a holistic acceptance and vote of confidence by the majority of people to the Greek government, with a percentage of 82% commenting positively on the measures taken, as well as the general handling of the pandemic locally.
Specific Financial Support for the Greek Tourism Sector
The Greek tourism and economy ministries are aiming to focus all recovery actions on maintaining Greece’s connectivity with the world and boosting demand as well as reigniting domestic tourism interest through benefit tourism packages. The plan is set to be finalized in the coming two months depending on the developments and impact of the Covid-19 epidemic and on the country’s economic standing. Tourism enterprises have already been included in the government’s support packages for businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis, with 2 billion euros to be allocated to the sector. Furthermore, the EU is expected to announce a series of measures to boost the tourism sector, since it constitutes a main driver of growth for Europe. Greek authorities are examining a series of measures to give the tourism sector a boost after the coronavirus pandemic subsides and to recover lost ground. The sector is expecting for a creditnote scheme – theso-calledvoucher – foradurationof 18 months to be established by law the following days that is expected to help tour organizers and accommodation businesses to ease their liquidity problems.
The private sector, led by SETE (The Confederation of Greek Tourist Enterprises) considers that furthermeasuresshould include the reduction of VAT on accommodation to 6% and total catering (F+B) to 13%, so that the VAT burden on the tourist package will diminish to 8%-9%, the reduction of VAT on domestic air and ferry transport to 13% from its current level of 24%, the reduction of VAT of services by travel and tourism agencies offering tourist packages from 24% to 13%, the abolition, suspension or drastic reduction of the so-called room-night residence tax, that is added to current municipal taxes on hospitality, and the enhancement of tourism promotion activities in close collaboration with the private sector. Businesses also expect additional support measures for liquidity with the state guarantee, in various aid schemes.
According to the Greek Finance Minister, the government is planning to group a series of interventions for the tourism sector, businesses and workers also included in the measures already announced. The government’s next package of measures will specifically focus on Greece tourism, but the Ministry also suggested “more targeted action is needed in this direction.” Additional announcements towards this direction are expected within the coming weeks.
Coordination between the state and the private sector
At the same time, public and the private sector has been strategically working together to tackle the crisis in the short-term (health wise and financially wise) as well as in the long-term, focusing to secure the “Greece’s brand name”. It is important to note that several initiatives are taking place to maintain the image of the destination. Additional to that, a legislation will be put forward soon, that will determine the way the private and public sector will be working together to bring additional value to forthcoming campaigns for Greece.
#GreecefromHome platform, by the Greek Ministry of Tourism, GNTO and Marketing Greece / Discover Greece with the support of Google
An online platform called “Greece from Home” was launched by the Greek Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization and Marketing Greece – providing content through its own platform discovergreece.com – with the support of Google, aimed at reinforcing the country’s positive image during the Covid-19 pandemic. The central goals of the initiative are to help people around the world stay in touch with Greek culture and discover and be inspired by the country’s attractions and experiences, and for tourism professionals to enhance their digital skills with the help of Google – and all this while staying home. The platform, also aimed at retaining the interest of potential visitors, also leverages YouTube, with hours of videos featuring popular figures from their homes.
With their main slogan “Till Then, #StaySafe”, Marketing Greece has created content, offered – without charge – to Greek tourism enterprises. The overall aim is to share the message with the international tourist public that better days are surely coming, while urging them to stay safe in the meantime. The new, innovative campaign uses photographs accompanied by the caption “When the time is right, we’ll be there for you. Till then #staysafe”, using the unique crystal-clear light of Greece to bring hope to the quarantine-weary public. Viewers are transfixed and revived by the almost-otherworldly blues of the Greek seas and its stunning natural landscapes. The new campaign also invites travellers to continue dreaming and planning the next occasion, when everyone will again be carefree and able to enjoy the uniqueness of Greece. The campaign concludes with a video, moving the concept towards “dreaming away”, with a core message “Until the time is right to travel again, dream away!”.
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Last updated 10.04.2020