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Policing the Pandemic

The SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged in late 2019, causing the coronavirus pandemic responsible for the death of many people worldwide. Since March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) first officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the outbreak has posed a huge threat to public safety and peoples’ lives.

The first COVID-19 case in Greece was reported in February 2020. But how is a pandemic police’s problem? The answer is obvious: when problems arise or adverse events happen, people call the police. Even though public health agencies play a leading role in dealing with a pandemic, the police is involved from start to finish, as public always looks to the police to answer their questions and solve their problems.

Enforcing the pandemic restrictions

To prevent COVID-19 transmission in Greece, hard measures needed to be taken immediately It  involved cancelation of public festivities, closure of schools, universities, malls. Café’s, restaurants, cinemas and theatres were closed down, too.

The freedom of movement, was permitted only for specific reasons, such as: i) moving to or from one’s workplace during work hours, ii) going to the pharmacy or visiting a doctor, iii) going to a food store, iv) going to the bank for services not possible on-line, v) assisting a person in need of help, vi) going to a major ritual (marriage, baptism, funeral) or for divorced parents – traveling to see their children and vii) moving outdoors for exercising or taking one’s pet out individually or in pairs. All citizens leaving their homes were required to carry their ID or passport, as well as a testimony stating the purpose or category of travel is stated.

In all that effort, Hellenic Police was the official authority to monitor and control the implementation of all the above measures. First, a large number of police officers was deployed to conduct controls on citizens for implementation of measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Apart from doing randomized controls, Hellenic Police tried to educate and engage people as the frontline authority between the Society and the State.

Furthermore, Hellenic Police had the responsibility to protect Greek citizens who wanted to return to Greece upon implementation of lockdown measures. The travellers were staying in quarantine in designated hotels which had the permission and the appropriate conditions to host them until doctors determine that they were not contagious.

To protect people, Hellenic Police introduced the option to resolve cases via email, diminishing the number of people who were obliged to come to police stations. On top of that, for cases where a personal visit was necessary, police stations introduced new protection measures in the reception areas.

New responsibilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted public authorities across the EU to deploy conventional and unconventional technologies to curb the spread. In October 2019, Greek lawmakers introduced a new legislation that allows for the Hellenic Police to broadly use drones in policing and border management activities. Before the adoption of these new provisions, Hellenic Police could only deploy drones for limited activities, such as the prevention of forest fires or in search & rescue activities.

Greece, as part of the European Union, had access to adequate number of vaccines in order to vaccinate its citizens. Hellenic Police has also played an important role in protecting the vaccines during transport, and assuring safety of the vaccines stored in the Centers of Storages of the Vaccines, as planned in “OPERATION ELEFTHERIA (FREEDOM).

Challenges of COVID-19

One of the most difficult challenges of the pandemic, was that all the above emergent tasks needed to be taken on top of the usual duties of Hellenic Police. So, except from the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hellenic Police had to prevent crime and protect the public safety.

The coronavirus pandemic showed us that despite all technological progress, humanity remains vulnerable to catastrophes. What the society needs is collaboration among all the authorities, especially those who partook in dealing with COVID-19.

In Greece, pandemic has boosted effectiveness of collaboration among organizations, authorities and the Greek society. Despite the Greek stereotype of poor social compliance and strong-minded sense of independence, Greece deserves some acknowledgment for the responsibility of its citizens, who have complied with the state’s expert recommendations and accepted the early lockdown.

Due to efficient coordination and peoples’ obedience, Greece has been widely perceived as a model example during the COVID-19 crisis.

Author: Kyritsis Theofanis, Police Lieutenant of Hellenic Police