Category Archives: Coronavirus

The coronavirus strategy in Greece


John and I are well and safe. We should have been in Uzbekistan on a 2 week tour ‘doing The Silk Road’  at present but of course, that has not been possible. Instead, we have stayed at home and the days have gone by peacefully. We keep in touch with family and friends and even had a family meeting last week, courtesy of Zoom. Most days I have a walk, admired the empty Tholos beach (see picture above) and John has a bike ride. We watch series and films on TV and last night watched an old BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre on Greek TV. Our hair is getting longer and we complain sometimes about the amount of cooking we have to do. We speak to our neighbours at a distance and are now enjoying warmer and sunnier weather. There is not much more to be said!  But, I would like to write about the general coronavirus strategy in Greece because for us, this has been the reason that we have kept healthy and safe.

The death rate and the number of cases of corona virus in Greece is comparatively very low in relation to the rest of Europe. With a population of nearly 11 million, there have been 2,620 cases of coronavirus, the first case diagnosed on 26th February.  Contact tracing was introduced on the first and all subsequent confirmed cases with all contacts being tested and isolated. 143 people have died, with the first death on 12th March.  In the last 24 hours there has been 3 deaths and 21 new cases reported. These figures are very low in European terms.  In Crete, there has been one coronavirus death reported.

The Government coronavirus strategy has been based on the need, first and foremost, to  prevent the disease from spreading. Greece’s health service and, in particular, hospital resources were severely damaged during the Crisis.  It doesn’t have the resources in hospitals to care for large numbers of seriously ill people.  So, the Greek strategy was about prevention of the disease and also developing good communication with the whole nation. Social distancing was crucial and public goodwill was key to the success of the approach.

From the start, there has been a scientific committee advising the government.  It appears that science was and still is being prioritised over politics.  Sotiras Tsiodras, an infectious disease specialist, is in charge of Greece’s management of coronavirus.

His advice has been at the heart of the  government coronavirus strategy and he is also the main communicator with the Greek nation on television.   The Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis

announces the main policy changes. Nikos Hardalias was upgraded to the post of deputy minister of civil defence and crisis management and is the state co-ordinator to deal with the virus.   Every night at 6pm, Mr Hardalias and Mr Tsiodras are on TV to provide information and answer questions. Mr Tsiodras reads a prepared statement with up to date statistics, the reasons behind Government policies, explains how they will affect individuals and all the time emphasises the seriousness of the virus and importantly, the need for people to do as they are told. There is no spin.  He tells it how it is. He answers questions and never has good news!  He is serious, honest, respected and trusted. Apparently now, he is the most popular man in Greece. Public goodwill has been  nurtured by honest, clear, evidence based communication which has been a key factor of the coronavirus strategy here.

Action was taken early and swiftly by the Government and its advisers to ensure that small and large gatherings of people were cancelled. The first case of coronavirus , reported on 26th February was a woman who had returned from a visit to Northern Italy. The next day, after 3 cases had been diagnosed, the Government cancelled all the traditional carnival events, in Greece, due to take place over the weekend of 30th March. Greece’s Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said “Based on the experts’ recommendation, and to protect public health, we have decided to cancel carnival events in all of Greece, as other European countries have done,”   All schools were closed on the 11th March and  important soccer games were postponed.

On the 13th March, it was agreed to close all cafes, bars, museums, shopping centres, sports facilities, archaeological sites and restaurants. There were serious fines for those businesses carrying on trading. We arrived back in Greece on the 16th March and soon after air travel became much more limited. Travel restrictions are in place now. On 18 and 19 March, the government announced a series of measures of more than 10 billion euros to support the economy, businesses and employees.

On 23rd March, the Government announced lockdown, restricting all non-essential movement.  Essential movement was defined as going to work,  visiting the doctor, pharmacy, supermarket, bank, assisting someone in need of help, go to a funeral,  walked your dog or going out for some exercise.  The Government also introduced a system of control.  Anybody wishing to go out must inform the authorities with a sms or a signed form, giving the reason for leaving your house and some form of identification must be taken with you. If this isn’t done and a policeman stops you. the fine is 50 euros.  There were stiffer fines in place over the Easter period as the authorities attempted to prevent people from travelling to their relatives in other parts of the country.

There was fairness in the government decisions. Basically no-one or no institution, was exempt from the Government actions.  The Greek Orthodox Church wanted to be exempt but the Prime Minister himself ordered them to close their churches. And when individual priests disobeyed, they were arrested. The message was that the virus does not respect religion or class or colour or gender or age and so everybody must obey the rules which are in place to protect each individual.

The Government have introduced new digital reforms, in order that people can access serves online. This has meant that repeat prescriptions have been accessed without having to go to the doctor. These reforms were badly needed in Greece, and the virus has been the catalyst to make them happen.

The Greek people have, in the main, accepted the Government measures.  In the newspaper, the Greek Reporter, the headline of one article on the 28th April was ‘Coronavirus lockdown busts myth of Unruly Greek’. The vast majority of Greeks have stayed at home. There has been considerable revenue from fines but there appears to have been a general acceptance that  lockdown was the right thing to do. The impressive communication system has also contributed to this. The celebration of Easter usually involves a high degree of church attendance but this year it took place at home.  There were concerns beforehand but in general people kept to the rules.

In Greece there are few residential homes. It is, in the main, the responsibility of the family to care for the elderly. The daughter of our elderly neighbour has stayed with her since February. The daughter lives on the mainland but family responsibility includes this support. The chances of catching the virus are higher in a residential home. The Government have provided more funding to a Help at Home scheme, employing 3000 permanent employees to support vulnerable groups. Refugees in camps, where conditions are tough, have, as yet, not been a target for the virus.

Last Tuesday, 37 days after Greece went into full lockdown, the Greek Government announced that it was moving into a new phase of the battle against the coronavirus. This second phase will start tomorrow on Monday 4th May and there will be a gradual implementation of measures which will enable people to work, go to school and socialise.  Here, the motto of the first stage was μένουμε σπίτι (stay at home) to μένουμε ασπηαλής (stay safe). It is a risky decision but the Government feels that it is now in a position to introduce this.

The focus here has so far been on the health of the nation with its slogan μένουμε σπίτι. Now, other needs of the nation such as education and work will be given more of a priority. Hopefully, this can be managed as well as the first stage.


Keeping busy in lock down

One of the more interesting aspects of being in lock down has been reading how friends and family have been keeping sane whilst their normal lives are on hold. So it has been rather fun getting detailed recipes from the ”Corona Kitchen’ in Edinburgh’, a daily Blog from Uppsala in Sweden covering meanderings off the beaten track whilst taking daily exercise, as well as regular updates on facebook providing  gardening hints and problems associated with laying turf in Essex.

My contribution to all this endeavour has so far at least, been purely personal. For nearly forty years I have been researching my family history in an on-and-off kind of way – mostly off if I am honest and pre-pandemic, I decided it was time to write it up before I wandered off to some cloud to learn to play the harp.

So just before we left for the UK in February, I managed to circulate to my immediate family the first part of my magnum opus which deals with my four grandparents. I read somewhere that this is a good place to start because there is a good chance that you actually knew them and/or other family members are still around, who did.

For me it worked. They became real people, not just old folk whom I barely tolerated in my grumpy teenage years and the project encouraged me to continue with the second part which is to deal with the generations which came before.

Lock down has given me both the opportunity and no excuse not to do it!

At this point I can discern an urge in you dear reader, to hit the exit button as you begin to suspect that you are about to be deluged with all sorts of stuff about which you have no interest whatsoever. You can do that if you wish but you will miss the tale of one family who lived, loved and suffered in nineteenth century rural England and abroad

I bring you the lives of my 3x Great Grandparents, Benjamin and Caroline Burt.

Benjamin and Caroline were born in rural Dorset about the end of the eighteenth century and thus well before the time when the official registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England. Hence for much of the information relating to them, we are heavily dependent on parish records, many of which have survived but with varying degrees of both quality and accuracy. There are no photographs of these people and given the fact that they and their families were agricultural labourers, they have left very little trace of their lives beyond that which can be gleaned from the limited records which are available.

Agricultural labourers at the beginning of the nineteenth century were almost by definition, poor. Life was hard, brutal even, for the whole family. Increasing farm mechanisation and depressed wages during and following the Napoleonic Wars, meant financial hardship for many rural folk, and perhaps just as important, with the passing of various Land Enclosure Acts, little or no possibility of producing their own food on common land, which they had been able to do in earlier times.

Benjamin Burt

Benjamin was born around 1787, the son of John Burt and Jane Terrell. He was baptised on September 16 of that year together with his twin brother Thomas in the Parish Church at Sturminster Marshall, in Dorset which was and remains, a small village a few miles north of Poole.

The twins had two older sisters and a further brother and sister were to follow.

We have no information relating to Benjamin’s childhood but it seems likely that at some point his twin brother Thomas, may have died. I can find no record of him anywhere although it has to be said that nor can I find a record of his death. However, Benjamin’s first born son was called Thomas and i think this may be significant.

Benjamin himself does not appear again in any parish records until he married Caroline Gooby on March 6 1820 at Sturminster Marshall.

Note that both Benjamin and Caroline could not write and made their respective marks. This would have been normal among the labouring classes at that time.

Caroline Gooby (or Gobey) was the fifth child of Thomas Gobey and Mary Pardock (nee Syms) and was baptised at Corfe Mullen, Dorset on July 27 1794.

There are a number of variations on the spelling of her surname but I have chosen to use the one which appears on the record of her marriage.

There is also some confusion too, regarding her Christian name. It is Caroline on her marriage and death certificates but Anne seems to have been the name she used when she had her children baptised.

This has caused me a problem over the years because I thought for a long time that there must have been two separate families – Benjamin/Caroline and Benjamin/Anne but I could never find a marriage for the second and I could never find a death for Anne. There again, I could not find any children directly associated with Caroline.

Eventually, I decided (like everyone else researching this family) that Caroline and Anne had to be one and the same. All the other evidence fits, even including one reference which I read, that Anne was sometimes used as a diminutive for Caroline. This, it was claimed, is explained by the fact that in a West Country accent the two rhyme! Coming from Somerset, I can just about accept this but even so, I have to admit, there remains a small element of doubt regarding the names.

Benjamin and Caroline had at least six children:

Mary born c. 1821 bapt. Lytchett Matravers  Mar 17 1822
Thomas born c. 1821 bapt. Lytchett Matravers  Mar 17 1822
Jane born c. 1824 bapt. Lytchett Matravers Nov 7 1824
Caroline born c.1826 Lytchett Matravers
Sarah born c. 1829 Lytchett Matravers
Henry born c 1832 Lytchett Matravers died c. 1835

Lytchett Matravers is another small village which lies about three miles west of Sturminster Marshall. We know very little about the day-to-day lives of Benjamin and Caroline but there is some not inconsiderable evidence which indicates that it was not easy. I say this partly in the context of economic factors referred to earlier which meant that the life of the agricultural labourer and his family was difficult in the early half of the eighteenth century but also because we know that the Overseers of the Poor in Lytchett Matravers clearly saw this family in particular, as one which they would have preferred had not moved there from Sturminster Marshall.

This move took place not long after Benjamin and Caroline were married because Mary and Thomas were both baptised in Lytchett Matravers in 1822. In 1826, the authorities there, attempted to challenge the settlement order under which responsibility for the family had been transferred from Sturminster Marshall. The case was lost and the family were allowed to stay.

This action may have been prompted by the fact that Benjamin had been charged in 1825 with stealing apples. Although he was acquitted, it was not the first time he had had a brush with law. Indeed over the years there were to be a number of such cases, all relating to what nowadays we would call petty pilfering but in those harder times, any transgression was regarded in a much harsher light with corresponding punishments.

As his criminal record indicates, Benjamin was clearly someone whom the authorities had their eyes on and were out to get. That said, with one exception he was never convicted although, as will become apparent, he was not the only member of the family to have brushes with the law.

Benjamin Burt – Criminal Record

Date                         Where             Alleged Offence   Convicted/Acquitted     Punishment

06/02/19       Dorchester Prison     Stealing an Axe                Acquitted           Discharged  23/04/19

01/10/25       Dorchester Prison     Stealing Apples                Acquitted           Discharged 04/10/25

25/02/40       Dorset Assizes           Receiving Stolen               Acquitted          Discharged                                                                                      Stockings*

07/02/41       Dorchester Prison    Stealing Potatoes              Convicted   3 months Hard Labour

*           Benjamin’s son Thomas (Aged 19) was also charged with this Offence and acquitted 

Henry the second son of Benjamin and Caroline died about 1835 but I have been unable to find any record of his death and indeed, there may have been another daughter, Eliza born c. 1825 for whom no records survive. Whatever, Caroline perhaps worn out by years of child bearing, poverty, insecurity and concern for her family, became ill and died of consumption (TB) in August 1839 .

In February 1840 just months after the death of their mother, daughters Caroline aged 13 and Sarah aged 10 were charged and convicted of stealing stockings and both sentenced to one week’s hard labour!

Worse was to follow because in October 1840, Jane and Caroline were arrested and subsequently convicted for stealing a cap and a pocket handkerchief. Aged just 16 and 14 they were sentenced to be transported and in April 1841, they left for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), never to return to Dorset.

While they were in prison their father was convicted for stealing potatoes and sentenced to three month’s hard labour.

Words fail me. This was clearly a family in crisis and yet they were treated no better than animals by the authorities.

Presumably it was left to young Thomas and Mary aged just nineteen or twenty to keep the remaining family together but how they coped, we can only imagine. However, just to compound matters, we do know that Mary died in 1844.

Thanks to contact with Marion Taylor, a distant cousin in Australia, I was given a wealth of information on what happened to the two young women transported to Australia.

Both married within a few years of arrival and were given their freedom, never to transgress again. Jane had a number of children and her descendants are numerous. Caroline also had children but she, her husband and three of their children succumbed to various illnesses contracted in the unhealthy conditions found in the temporary settlements which accompanied the Goldfields of Victoria in the 1860’s.

It seems doubtful if there was ever any contact with Benjamin or the rest of the family because no one could read or write.

This is a photograph which Marion sent me of Jane and her husband James Wright in later life.

As for the behaviour of the British authorities, in his definitive work on transportation, Robert Hughes writes:

‘Australia was settled to defend English property …. from the marauder within. English lawmakers wished not only to get rid of the ”criminal class” but if possible to forget about it.’

So the teenage daughters of my 3x Great Grandparents became two of the 160,000 convicts who were transported between 1787 and 1868.

In this context, Marion Taylor comments:

Do not think too badly of Jane and Caroline because many of the convicts sent to Australia were guilty of petty crimes which today would not even attract a prison sentence. Many of these people were victims of the times with unemployment and poverty forcing them to obtain food and clothing by whatever means they could.  Because of the system in force in Britain and Ireland during the late 1700s and early 1800s, the powers that be saw transportation as a means of ridding their countries of the underprivileged as well as petty criminals.  I have 9 convicts in my direct line and all were transported for petty crimes. None of them ever committed a crime after their arrival in Australia, which says something about them. It certainly proves that they were no habitual criminals.

On a lighter note, the Criminal Records are interesting from another perspective. They describe the appearance of the person who is the subject of the record and thus, pre-photographic images, we can get an idea of what people looked like.

So, for example, we know that Benjamin was 5 ft 10 ins tall, with grey hair, dark hazel eyes and a sallow complexion, with a cut to the middle of his forehead, a pock mark to his left eyebrow, another pock mark to his top cheek bone and with several moles to the bottom of his left cheek.

Thomas was 5 ft 9 ins tall with rather dark brown hair, grey eyes and a rather sallow complexion, with a mole to the side of the right side of upper lip and a cut on the right side of the middle finger to the right hand.

After Mary’s death in 1844, the tasks of running the household must have fallen to young Sarah but in 1847, then aged 18, she took perhaps the easier option and married George Christopher. By the time of the 1851 Census they were living in Lytchett Minster with two children and with Benjamin installed as a lodger.

At the time of the 1861 Census, Benjamin who is described as formerly an agricultural labourer, was lodging with Hannah Wilkins and her daughter at Waterlane Plot, Lytchett Minster.

I like to think of him perhaps nursing a pint in the St Peter’s Finger pub in Lytchett Minster.

Thanks to the Upton Millenium Project for the historic photograph.

Benjamin died aged 82 in the late spring of 1867 and was buried on May 9 at Lytchett Minster. He had had a hard and eventful life with his wife having died young from a disease of the poor and two of his children transported for trifling crimes. He was clearly a bit of a rogue but he seems to have tried to do his best for his family and he was also a survivor. I rather admire him.

The cover photo is the house where I believe Thomas Burt lived in Lytchett Matravers.