When the first cases of the Coronavirus – COVID – 19 made their appearance in Wuhan, China, just before Christmas, my thoughts took me back to the era of SARS, EBOLA, and MERS. It was an unknown virus, but too far away to affect us here on the Island of Crete. Within three months, the virus had spread at an unprecedented rate to over 163 countries, and it was coming closer. With the first cases in Italy, late February, it suddenly became apparent that the threat was real, and it wasn’t if, but rather when, it would finally hit Greece.
By Sam Pinakoulaki (Greece Country Manager/Social Media Manager)
At first, it was difficult to wrap my head around the drastic changes that had been enforced throughout the world. I kept telling myself; this isn’t a convenient time for the virus to make its appearance. I was busy preparing for my first team of Global Volunteers for 2020. The teachers were excited about preparing their classes, transportation was arranged, and the hotel Handakas was working 24/7, opening the hotel after the winter break. Then it hit, the first confirmed case in Greece, six days before volunteers were due to arrive! Schools were closed overnight, leaving the service program in Greece without a work project. The team had to be canceled.
Luckily for us, after the first confirmed case in the north of Greece, the Greek government took action adopting the campaign, Μενουμε Σπιτι, (stay home) asking its residents to stay home, protecting themselves and their families, stopping the spread of the virus. The English translation for the national commercial below is as follows:
“Listen, the situation is dangerous. Stay home, shut the door on the Coronavirus, and stay at home as much as possible. Especially you, grandmothers, and grandfathers. Stay home and listen carefully to what I have to say;
- No going out here and there, gathering in groups for the usual chit chat.
- Do NOT babysit the grandchildren. We know you’re going to find this difficult, but you need to do it.
- With the first symptoms, fever or a cough, stay home and call your family practitioner.
- Stay home, so we can all have good health! That’s my advice – now it’s up to you!
On March 16th, Greece went under complete lock-down with only supermarkets, pharmacies, and banks remaining open. Hotels, taverns and coffee shops closed. We are only allowed out for five specific reasons which are;
- Going to the pharmacy or visiting a Medical Doctor, in the case that this is recommended after consultation.
- Going to a supply store in operation (super markets, mini markets etc.,) which cannot ship or deliver its goods.
- Going to the bank, when electronic transactions are not possible.
- Going to help people in need.
- Physical exercise in an open space or for a pet’s needs; individually or up to 2 people. In the latter case, a minimum distance of 1.5 meters must be kept at all times.
Before leaving home, we need to send an SMS (short message service) or carry a signed form from the government stating the reason we are out, along with our identity cards. There are police blocks everywhere, and the penalty for not having the requested papers is a fine of 150 Euros. Luckily, we didn’t experience the frantic crowds rushing to the supermarkets to stock up on products as in other countries, and we still have access to toilet paper, antiseptic gel, gloves, and masks.
With a population of just over 10 million, Greece currently has 2,224 confirmed cases and 108 fatalities. Here in Crete, there are only 14 confirmed cases and only one in ICU. We are lucky compared to many other countries in Europe, but we took drastic measures quickly. Every day we await the 6 pm daily press conference by Mr. Sotiris Tiodras, the Director of the Infectious Diseases Committee for the Greek government.
Just before the lock-down became apparent, my “Mama mode” kicked in. I wanted my chicks safely home. I had a son studying in Holland, a daughter living in Cairo, and another daughter living in Athens. But they all decided to stay put, none of them returning home to Crete. Now in retrospect, they made the right decision; after all, we have Yiayia (grandma) Dimitra (my 90-year-old mother-in-law) to think of. Also, the compulsory 14-day quarantine imposed on foreign travelers would have been next to impossible in our 60m, two-bedroom apartment. While my heart aches not having them under my wings, their decision to stay put fills me with pride, what beautiful, responsible human beings they have become.
Like many people, our days spent indoors have now become a routine, wearing pajamas and unsure of what day it is. Luckily, I have my two daughters, Lia and Alice, for company along with our dog (Shelly) and three cats (George, Weelah, and Leyla) while my husband continues to go to work, take care of his mother’s needs and grocery shops for us. Alice (16) started online classes last week, which she seems to find amusing, (I hear a lot of laughter during her lessons) although the 9 am classes after three weeks of “vacation” is hard for any teenager. Lia (25) spends her time productively, thinking of her future, and applying for jobs online, which seems to be working as she’s had three interviews already. As for me, I am just grateful for my position in the marketing department at Global Volunteers. Working as a social media manager, I have the opportunity to regularly connect with our staff worldwide and report on the situation in their relevant countries. For me, it’s also going to be a time to start a new project, you know those times when you’ve said to yourself, I’d love to do this, or that, but I simply don’t have the time? Well, now is the time. Not sure what, yet. Maybe an online course, read a book, or even keep a journal, which I always say I’ll do but never get around to doing it.
While we all try hard to come to terms with the latest developments, some more than others will feel the negative results of this crisis: The hotel staff at the hotel Handakas, who rely on working six months per year to make it through the winter months and the English teachers and their students who had been working so hard preparing for their English exams in May. Crete was in the process of healing from the economic crisis of 2015. And like so many of our Island destinations, Cook Islands, St. Lucia and Sicily, whose primary income is tourism, Crete also will suffer over the coming months, and we all at Global Volunteers need to be ready to help all of them recover.
I long for the day when I’ll be able to open the door and hug my family and friends once again without fear. No one knows when we’ll all be together as a family again, and with Greek Orthodox Easter just around the corner, it makes things even worse. Nothing compares to the Greek family Easter celebrations! But luckily with technology today, it’s comforting to be able to keep in touch, real-time, and support each other from afar.
With that said and until this Global Pause ends, remember life is a gift! While it’s a challenging time for the human race, if we stay healthy, stick together, and have faith, it will pass. And when it does, we at Global Volunteers need to be ready to hit the road running, and finally, get back to doing what Global Volunteers does best – serving our community partners worldwide and helping children reach their full potential!
Stay well! Stay Strong! Stay at home!