Greece’s numbers on COVID-19 just don’t seem to tell the real story of the resurgence of cases since the tourism 2020 reboot. Once again, Athens authorities blame locals for the uptick, and traditional media outlets simply parrot that news. This leads to misinformation, mistrust, and an overall worsening of the coronavirus response in the country.
Take this recent parroting by GTP of the Greek General Secretariat for Civil Protection claims that a few eastern European countries, and unruly citizens of Greece, are at fault in the latest upsurge of COVID-19 cases. According to a media briefing by Athens authorities, the latest data supposedly shows that most of Greece’s imported coronavirus (Covid-19) cases are from Albania (132), Bulgaria (102), Romania (89), Serbia (80), and France (54). But the numbers presented by Greek Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias don’t seem to tell the whole story.
Looking at just one segment of inbound travel, Hardalias’ agency claims that inbound air travel data from July 1st to September 6th accounted for only 641 total cases from abroad. What the report fails to detail is that only about 1 in 8 tourists on inbound flights were actually tested, and that of those most were from what Hardalias calls “the countries that Greece is interested in,” or countries with supposed bad immunological histories. The system Greece has in place now presents a couple of truly alarming problems.
First and foremost, targeting testing primarily on a country’s immunological record is problematic for myriad reasons. For instance, what if a family or group (pod) of travelers living in close proximity in their home country, is missed because the system has not keyed on that country? A whole group carrying COVID-19 could be let into Greece with nobody the wiser. On the face of this, the 641 number used by Athens authorities could be 8 or even 10 times higher. And at the end of this nightmare hundreds and thousands of Greek citizens would be exposed by tourists who won’t get counted in Greece. In other words, those locals authorities are blaming, they may (probably) caught the virus from someone or groups carrying the coronavirus into the country.
Next, there is the queer report on GTP about Greek officials being “puzzled” over the UK’s recent decision to quarantine arrivals from Tinos and Serifos, islands Hardalias points out have no airports. The Deputy Minister first questions the voracity of the UK quarantine and then turns the tables to use UK COVID-19 actions to verify Greece’s methods. This is the direct opposite of what the UK insinuates because there are accusations from some, that Greece is hiding numbers. Of course, Athens leadership denies any numbers juggling on the administration’s part.
Data and the way public relations about things like pandemics and other crises often lead to confusion. Take the chart above showing how the percentage of tests to positive COVID-19 cases changed from the onset of the pandemic to today. At the mid-point, when Greece was the talk of the world for having “flattened the curve,” only one tenth of one perfect of tests came back positive. Now, this number is back up to where things were in April, when officials announced a country-wide lockdown.
Interestingly, or alarmingly, the data shows that even as the tourists are being tested in increasing numbers, Greece only really performs 1.18 tests per 1,000 people as of September 9th. Germany, as a comparative, tests about 1.9 per 1,000, and the UK is testing 2.54. This leads me to believe the “algorithms” Mr. Hardalias says are being used to target tourists by country/performance, they may need to be tweaked a bit.
Another key metric here is what’s known as the “stringency factor” used to show how tough countries are on COVID-19. Back in May Greece was at the top of this list with a score of 84.26 out of 100, and now even the UK and Germany are rated double digits higher than Greece’s 56.02 ratings. For this retired public relations executive, media mentions doubling up on how “well” a corporation of government administration are doing in a crisis means one thing, somebody’s manipulating somebody else.
More on this topic as news comes in.