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Covid 19 Communication Strategies in Greece

Maria G. Vareli & Aikaterini A. Poulou


The Covid-19 pandemic’s global impact showed that proper and timely communication of its management, by governments, was a major asset in prevention and response.

However, differing levels of awareness of what was considered an effective response varied across regions and individual countries. The crisis also appeared to both polarise and consensus in political systems which added a further layer of complexity where segments of the population implicitly trusted their government whilst others did not.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Greece was among the member states that received positive recognition for its pandemic management and communication strategies from the EU. It’s government communication strategy was to provide information daily to the public. This put in place clearly defined mechanisms which provided assurance as to the veracity of information by accrediting press editors to function as spokespeople. Information was relayed by all national television channels which provided real-time operational information and instructions for the population based on epidemiological data.

Public Health and Communication

Operational readiness and communication are essential if any public health situation is to be managed effectively. For the World Health Organisation, this concept relates to know-how and organisational systems which enable bodies, communities, and nation-states to prepare for,


respond to, and recover from catastrophic events, emergencies, and crises.

The growth and development of communication strategies as a public health tool emerged alongside the outbreaks of significant communicable diseases this century, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, which sowed international panic with 8,096 cases and 774 deaths, the 2009

H1N1 influenza epidemic in Europe and Asia, the MERS-CoV (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) epidemic in Middle East countries in 2013 and most recently the 2014-15 Ebola haemorrhagic fever epidemic in West African countries. Communication strategies have a multidimensional function in emergency and crisis management, particularly in the context of public health. The adoption of appropriate communication strategies for addressing behaviours to minimise communicable disease has demonstrated a positive impact. Furthermore, in addition to addressing public health crises more quickly and effectively, it also helps to minimise multiple medium and long-term consequences. [13. Khabbaz R, 2013]

In emergency and crisis situations relevant authorities should seek to foster a climate of trust and credibility. Information and messages should not solely relate to the impact of the disaster on the lives and property of those living in the affected area. Authorities need to present in a timely and honest manner conveying their commitment and ability to manage the crisis. They should be empathetic and recognise the emotional burden on the affected and wider communities. This provides multiple short and medium-term benefits, including reducing stigma, enhancing individual and social resilience, and minimising the expected socio-economic and psychological effects of the crisis [1. Allen, J. R., and Von Hippel, K. (2020), 2. Lau, H., Khosrawipour, V., Kocbach, P., Mikolajczyk, A., Schubert, J., Bania, J., and Khosrawipour, T. (2020)].

Covid-19 and Crisis Management in Greece

Those who work in crisis management have, in effect, been living in a global case study laboratory for two years. The pandemic created a great opportunity to reflect, measure, and evaluate crisis management theory and practice. 

In seeking to mature the practice and measurement for dealing with pandemics in Greece we shall attempt to analyse the quality of national crisis management [3. CEDEFOP (2020), 4. Poulakidakos, S. (2021)].

First, theory teaches that we must anticipate, assess, prevent, and prepare for emergencies and crises. In Covid’s case, the whole planet was almost caught sleeping. In the years leading up to the pandemic, several companies in Greece had included the pandemic in their risk scenarios. However, all the communication consultants, involved in the periodic reviews of the communication plans, assessed the pandemic scenario as “minor” and suggested that it should be deleted. As such, resources for the looming crisis were not put in place. It should be acknowledged that our health system is generally able to flex and increase capacity, where required, regardless of the cause, and perhaps too much emphasis was put on this without understanding the wider impacts the pandemic might have.

Secondly, when it was recognised as a global issue, the virus was taken seriously, and decision-making took account of the dynamic and far-reaching impacts of the pandemic. Preventive measures were introduced in March 2020. The impact of the crisis on the economy was acknowledged. Economic factors were incorporated into the methodology and decision making. Continuous adaptation based on epidemiological data was implemented. This learning about the value of resilience, improvisation, and agility, as fundamental parts of crisis management is now taught in universities [5. Ta Nea (23/4/2020, 6. Ta Nea (12/11/2020].

Communication Throughout the Pandemic in Greece

Third, the application of crisis communication took a while to apply. Centralising information was finally effectively implemented after the summer of 2020 with the buy-in and integration of those handling the crisis. The emphasis on information and comprehensive communication reduced uncertainty, misinformation, and the misinterpretation of information [7. Mitsotakis, K. (2020, March 22),8. Petsas, S. (2020, March 11), 9. YouTube (2020)].

Whilst the figures show that Greece responded relatively well there was discontent with the government’s response. As the theorist Timothy Coombs says, “crisis management leaves an abstract impression, often communicative, of whether we did well or not” [10. Bundy, J., Pfarrer, M. D., Short, C. E., & Coombs, W. T. (2017)]. The consequences do not allow any celebration. With thousands of dead, tens of thousands of businesses destroyed, and a decayed health system, what successful crisis management is there to talk about?

Fourthly, communicating hope, and not promises that are impossible to deliver is vital. This is important at a point where the positive images and reviews of 2020 have been replaced by dissatisfaction and disappointment in 2021. One could argue that the Civil Protection Authority and Government did not change their strategic orientation, but the environment changed. Apart from personal hygiene and protection measures, all other communication appeared to be perceived as problematic.

The multiple stakeholder voices sounded dissonant, and the uncertainty was tiring. Hospital reinforcement was deemed insufficient, the measurement of incidents disputed, and many people considered the initial vaccination pledges within the first semester simply unfeasible. The vaccination program should have provided more specific horizon timelines in cooperation with pharmaceutical companies. After a year of promises, we reached a critical turning point. Time was running out. The government had to acquire a sense of urgency before its management of the vaccination roll-out was immersed in criticism. The government apparatus understood that the population being asked for a "little [more] patience still" was met with scepticism. The fifth and toughest lesson was that there was a need to actively address commitments that weren’t operationally feasible and find better time-bound solutions which could be communicated. This was a psychological requirement for the population [3. CEDEFOP, Greece (2020), 11. (2020)].


Good communication is an essential part of making a good crisis management policy. No measures can work without the cooperation and participation of citizens.

Openness, transparency, and inclusiveness are principles that characterise good communication, are essential in modern democratic societies and are the basis for more effective crisis management.

Effective risk-communication tactics can lead to better decision-making and help build trust between public institutions, the media, and the general population in providing information in an emergency.

When communicating information, it is important to adopt measures and directives, as well as to manage the fear and distress of uncertainties and the unknown. Public health organisations should communicate in a timely and effective manner with the public and the media to convey information and instruction(s) that are clear so the population can implement the measures.

The application of risk perception research is an integral part of crisis communication management. Many factors affect how different communities understand risk.

Finally, the relationship between positive and negative information is asymmetrical with the latter prevailing and negative messages having a greater communication impact than positive ones. As the media is the main method of transmitting information and disseminating scientific knowledge, official state bodies should consider validity, honesty, consistency and transparency in communication.

Public health crises cannot be effectively addressed unless official health organisations communicate effectively. The antidote to panic and fear is frequent, reliable, consistent, transparent, and honest communication from official scientific authorities [12. NEA YGEIA, 2020].

About the Author

Maria Vareli is currently, a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection. From 2000 until 2022 she held the post of Head of Training Department, while working as a Scientific and Operational Fellow of the Center of Operations of the National Public Health Organization (EODY). During her term in EODY, she was actively involved in the SARS COV-2 (2019) Pandemic Management Team of EODY. In 2003, she undertook the planning and implementation of a Co-funded Pan-European Conference on “Scientific Advice, Crisis Management and Media” within the framework of the Greek Presidency of the European Union.

Dr Aikaterini Poulou is a consultant vascular surgeon at Euroclinic Medical Group in Athens, Greece, and founder of K&A Heart and Vascular, also collaborates with the National Organization of Public Health. She graduated from the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University in Athens, Greece, and trained in vascular surgery at various institutions worldwide. Dr Poulou holds Master's degrees in Endovascular Techniques and Crisis Management in the Health Sector. She has received awards for her contributions to vascular surgery and has authored numerous publications. Fluent in Greek, English, Italian, and German, Dr Poulou is an active member of various scientific societies.

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