The need for local place leadership in times of crisis

Figure: Pierart dou Tielt (fl. 1340-1360) –, Public Domain,

by Heather Skinner

The Greek Central Government’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

19th March 2020

Just around one month on from the first cases in Europe of people testing positive for the Covid-19 virus, Greece is now in lockdown as a preventative response to halt the spread of the pandemic across the country that has to date infected 418 people and claimed 6 lives. As of today, the government has made it an offence, punishable with a 1000 Euro fine, for more than 10 people to gather in public spaces. The Civil Protection Ministry has also advised that all non-emergency or non-vital travel outside of the home should be limited to an absolute minimum. The majority of retail establishments are already closed, and many other measures have been put in place at a national level to slow the spread of the virus. We have also heard today that of Sunday 22nd May all international passenger flights in and out of Greece are to be cancelled.

18th March 2020

The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church bows to Government pressure and announced the closure of all churches and the cessation of all church services. The Government had already earlier overruled the church’s Holy Synod to enforce the of church services of all denominations, including Greek Orthodox, until the end of this month, despite the Orthodox church’s earlier claims about the potential efficacy of faith and prayer against the virus.

The Greek Government has also enforced the closure of all non-essential shops. As of today, all that will remain open are pharmacies and medical supply stores, opticians and dentists (by appointment only), supermarkets, grocery stores, mini markets and kiosks, bakeries, food delivery and take-away outlets, gas stations and vehicle repair shops, pet shops, veterinary services, post offices and courier services, and funeral parlours.

Along with all others member state of the EU, Greece will close its borders for 30 days to all non-EU travellers. UK citizens will be allowed in despite BREXIT, but along with returning Greek citizens, are being encouraged to self-isolate once they arrive in the country.

Easyjet, one of the most popular low-cost airlines, that was due to commence direct flights from the UK to many Greek islands at the end of this month, cancels all flights until 1st May.

17th March 2020

Owners of Greek smartphones received their second emergency alert text message in both Greek and English from the Civil Protection Ministry urging citizens to stay home unless absolutely necessary. “We are at a critical phase ….. the better we self-isolate, the more we delay the spread.” The first message on 11th March urged anyone over 70 years of age, or those in any other high-risk groups, to stay at home.

Greek Prime Minister Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses the nation in a “wartime” style broadcast, informing citizens about the new emergency measures that have been imposed, stating he understands that the forthcoming days will be “a nightmare”, and acknowledging the potential damaging effects on the country’s economy, informing the people of the measures he is imposing to minimise that effect with a package of financial assistance and additional social security and tax measures to help businesses and employees. He stressed his approach was to make the health and safety of the nation’s people a priority for “every Greek male, every Greek female, every Greek child”, with all private hospitals also now under public control to help lessen the strains on the national health service, and he also thanked the health service “heroes”. He encouraged all citizens to stay safe by staying home, and although he included the strong warning that “we are at war with an invisible enemy” he stressed that it was “an enemy that is not invincible”, concluding his broadcast with the rousing statement that “we will make it. We, the Greeks, will emerge once again victorious!” Here we have strong leadership in evidence, contrary to that which is being displayed in other countries, and while no one living in the country is very happy about the emergency measures they understand their necessity, and responses to the Prime Minister’s actions, and especially to this broadcast, have been overwhelmingly positive.

16th March 2020

Additional new restriction come into force to limit the numbers of customers at any one time in supermarkets.

14th March

The Greek Government announces that all organised beaches and ski resorts across the country must close, and all seasonal tourism accommodation must remain closed until 30th April with immediate effect. Any such accommodation that is currently open must close by 23rd March.

Across Greece, along with schools, museums, gyms and leisure centres that have already been closed by government regulations, all shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and entertainment premises must close.

Meanwhile in Corfu …

As a British immigrant to the small Ionian island of Corfu, and Senior Fellow of the Institute of Place Management, and therefore interested in such matters, it was fascinating, but at the same time really disheartening, to compare the place leadership in a time of crisis at a national and a local level. Corfu is situated to the East of the heel of the boot of Italy, and to the West of the Greek mainland and its border with Albania. It is home to just over 100,000 people, around 40,000 of whom live in the centrally situated Corfu Town, with the remaining population spread out over its inland and mountain villages, and its coastal tourism resorts. The island’s economy is heavily reliant upon tourism, and direct international flights to the island operate only between the very end of March and the first week of November. The rest of the time the island’s inhabitants may fly internationally only via Athens. Corfu has two ferry ports, one in Lefkimmi in the far South of the island that serves the Greek mainland port of Igoumenitsa, the other in Corfu Town that as well as the Greek mainland also operates routes to Italy and Albania[1]. Since September 2019 three new Mayors have taken office – one serving the South of the island, one serving the North, the other serving Central Corfu and the Diapontia Islands.

Today …19th March 2020

So far there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the island. On 13th March the Doctors’ Union issued a statement regarding how ill-prepared Corfu Hospital will be to cope with any outbreak of Covid-19 on the island. However, today the Director of Corfu’s only public hospital issued a plea via social media for the public to stop spreading rumours and fake news that the virus is already here, because, until the hospital acquires its own testing laboratory shortly, all test results that have been returned from Athens of suspected cases of the virus have come back negative. He also urged citizens to stay at home and not to come to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. A voluntary team of doctors has already been staffing an emergency helpline to deal with citizens’ questions and concerns during this period of crisis.

While shops selling necessary supplies may remain open, most retail workers are now wearing facemasks and gloves to deal with the public. The island’s Medical Association has issued advice that food sellers should not handle their produce and money with the same gloves.

The local management of the island’s main and largest marina situated in Gouvia just North of Corfu Town has announced updated safety measures and is considering preventing the mooring of all vessels from abroad. The marina is already complying with the national Civil Protection Agency’s health and safety regulations.

Children’s playgrounds, sport grounds, and other outdoor play areas in Corfu Town have been closed and taped off. Corfu Town’s open-air market was disinfected under the orders of the Central Corfu and Diapontia Islands Municipality who are also planning to disinfect other outdoor areas, roads and pavements in the coming days. Employees of the Municipality’s Department of Daily Life Issues, along with teams of volunteers, handed out leaflets to the market’s stall holders reminding them of the health and safety measures they should follow. Leaflets were also handed out to the market’s customers urging them all, but especially senior citizens, to follow the guidelines issued by the Greek Government. To make sure customers did not come into too much contact with market sellers, the Municipality also ordered that tape be put up around the various stalls.

Yes, this current crisis is health-related, so it is to some extent understandable that leadership with regard to the island’s response to such a crisis has come from Corfu’s medical professionals. But compared to the Prime Minister’s stirring and well-accepted “wartime” television broadcast, the lack of any real evidence of local leadership in Corfu during this time of crisis has been astonishing. There has been absolutely no collective response to the crisis at Municipality level across the island. The Mayors of the South Corfu and North Corfu Municipalities have not issued any statements regarding the crisis, and their only reported actions have been to walk away from a Coronavirus Crisis Meeting hosted by the Central Corfu Mayor on 15th March in the open air outside of a municipality building in Corfu Town. Their reason for walking away was that such a gathering, even with its’ attendees keeping their distance from each other, was setting a bad example to the island’s citizens. This storming out by the North and South Corfu Mayors is becoming a regular occurrence at any meetings trying to bring the three Mayors together to agree on anything. Also as usual, the Central Corfu Mayor ensured she had a good photo opportunity and good media coverage of the event and the other Mayors’ actions. She regularly does a lot of posturing and seems to be more concerned with self-aggrandisement than actually achieving anything meaningful for the island or its citizens. At least she has said her local authority will “contribute” to the costs of the hospital acquiring a Covid-19 virus testing laboratory. I am thoroughly ashamed of the three of them. At a time like this I would have hoped for some evidence of real local leadership rather than tantrums. This island is reliant upon tourism. Its citizens are scared. Not only of what would happen if the virus spread to the island affecting its people, but they are also scared for their future, for their incomes, for their families. One would have hoped that the three public officials serving the island could actually have, for once, during this unprecedented crisis, put their personal and political differences aside. Apart from a lack of any real action on their part, there have also not even been any messages of support or words of encouragement for the citizens of the island they are supposed to be serving. While across Greece citizens are by no means uncritical of Prime Minister Mitsotakis, on Corfu, and regardless of their political affiliations, people generally perceive that he is showing strong leadership that is respected and applauded, and which is in sharp contrast to their opinions about the lack of leadership and inaction of our island’s Mayors. We currently have no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Corfu. Our island’s citizens wish to keep it that way. We need the stringent measures that have been imposed by central Government at the moment. So many people here rely upon tourism for their income, and it is often an income that, earned in the summer, has to keep an entire family through the winter. Many businesses were hit hard by the demise of Thomas Cook last year. I have no idea how many of Corfu’s small tourism businesses will survive if we have no tourist season this year. It is generally felt across the island that it is better to have things closed down and safe now so that we may potenially salvage some of the season if businesses are allowed to open up again in May. But what the people of this island also need right now is strong local leadership from all of our public servants, not only our health professionals that are doing such a difficult job at this time. We need our three Mayors to show solidarity with the island’s citizens and at least provide support offering some understanding of the uncertainty we face. But how can they do that if they keep posturing and point-scoring and cannot even show solidarity with each

[1] More about the island, its unique customs, its reliance upon tourism, and the various types of tourism it attracts can be found in the following journal articles:

Skinner, H. (2019) ‘The impact of cultural values and economic constraints on tourism businesses’ ethical practices’ International Journal of Tourism Cities, 5(2), pp. 169-187.

Skinner, H. and Soomers, P. (2019) ‘Spiritual tourism on the island of Corfu: Positive impacts of niche tourism versus the challenges of contested space’ International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, 7(10), pp. 21-39.

Skinner, H. (2018) ‘Who really creates the place brand? Considering the role of user generated content in creating and communicating a place identity’ Communication & Society, 31(4), pp. 9-24.

Williams-Burnett, N., Skinner, H. and Fallon, J. (2018) “Reality Television Portrayals of Kavos, Greece: Tourists Behaving Badly”, Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 35(3), pp. 336-347.

Skinner, H. (2017) ‘Editorial: Responsible tourism and place making’, Journal of Place Management and Development, 10(2), pp. 102-105. doi: