Diomidis Spinellis, head of the department of management science and technology at the Athens university of Economics, says that the COVID-19 crisis “accelerated” Greece’s digital turn — though critics say the country has a long way to go.
Between March 23 and May 4, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed, Greeks were required to inform authorities when leaving their homes. A special SMS service was introduced for those unable to print a special form created by the government.
Eventually, some 110 million messages were sent free of charge during this period, in an initiative praised by the OECD.
Greece’s minister of digital governance Kyriakos Pierrakakis said the platform freed thousands of users — especially high-risk groups — from having to turn up at public services, as they were now able to sign documents digitally.
Nikos Smyrnaios, an associate professor of digital media at the university of Toulouse, said the 2010-2018 Greek debt crisis had already forced the country to overhaul its “archaic” civil service, but the process was often “haphazard.”
“Let’s hope the trend doesn’t come to a halt once we are out of this emergency,” said Spinellis.
Not everything has gone according to plan.
Officials later insisted that customers had received ample warning that most transactions could be handled online or by telephone.
Many users have lamented a lack of network bandwidth, while noting that their own homes could not be turned into office work areas at the flick of a switch when the lockdown was imposed in March.
“We are celebrating the disappearance of the fax in 2020,” jeers Dimitris Tsingos, a tech entrepreneur and founder of the Hellenic startup association.
“I don’t have a dedicated work area at home. I work from my kitchen, using equipment that is not made for this purpose,” she said.
Zafiraki also frequently battles slow connection and software glitches.
“This takes up a lot of my time and energy, and work with colleagues is much more difficult at a distance,” she says.
With thousands of school pupils at home because of the lockdown, the process of education continued online mainly due to the initiative and persistence of the teachers themselves, says Thanasis Goumas, a senior member of the teachers’ association.
Goumas also notes that many school pupils don’t have a computer at home, or an internet connection.
And there was uproar among teacher unions earlier this month when the education ministry announced that cameras would be set up in classes during teaching hours, to enable pupils not attending school to follow courses from home.