Sotiris Tsiodras, the epidemiologist who took Greeks by the hand this year, informing them about Covid-19 and giving the sad daily tally of the virus on TV during the first wave of the pandemic, is Greece’s Person of the Year for 2020.
During the first wave of the pandemic, Greeks were watching in horror how the new coronavirus was ravaging neighboring Italy, thankful that the virus had not spread closer to home.
However, they were also thankful that Australian-born Dr. Sotiris Tsiodras, was the head of the committee of epidemiologists and doctors tasked with preventing the spread of the lethal disease in their own country.
The epidemiologist who is like a father to all Greeks
Tsiodras’ soothing, fatherly voice, his gentle demeanor and indisputable sincerity appeared to be equally important as his remarkable knowledge of viruses and pandemics.
It was Tsiodras’ expertise and strong character that prompted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to put him at the helm of the team created to fight the biggest battle sin the country ince the Greco-Italian War.
Usually, in such dark times, people cling to someone who sells hope, who appears optimistic and claims he has easy solutions to problems that are in reality extremely difficult to solve.
Yet amidst the fear of the deadly unknown, and the dark news footage of convoys of Army trucks carrying dead bodies in Italy, Tsiodras appeared nightly on television to warn Greeks calmly that this must not happen to them — and would not happen if they followed the rules set out by the government.
Even though the epidemiologist was given the macabre task of giving the daily report of new Covid-19 cases and deaths, every evening Greeks would still glue themselves to their TV sets to hear him comfort them with his warm voice and fatherly advice.
Along with the terrifying count, the words of warning, the sad realizations, the painful truths and the phrase “Please stay at home,” at the end, he was like a father to everyone, not an authority figure.
Tsiodras never reassured people with glib phrases, never told them that things would be easy, never spoke of fast cures or a quickly-manufactured vaccine. He just told them to take all the necessary measures to avoid infection.
One evening, when advising people to stay healthy so they would not pass along the virus to their grandfathers and grandmothers, overwhelmed by emotion, he broke into tears.
The most popular man in Greece
In polls conducted during the first wave of the pandemic, the epidemiologist was voted the most popular man in Greece. Many responded that he would be an ideal candidate for Prime Minister or President of the Republic.
Tsiodras has grey hair, wears glasses, is conservatively dressed and is soft-spoken and mild-mannered. He is also a devout Greek Orthodox Christian and a family man, having seven children with his wife.
The beloved epidemiologist was born on October 13, 1965, in Sydney, Australia. He began his hospital training at 401 General Army Hospital during the years 1992-1993, when he also began his specialization in Internal Pathology.
After completing his nine months of field service, Tsiodras continued his studies in the United States, where he stayed for seven years and completed his postgraduate education.
He spent three years at the Department of Internal Pathology at Albert Einstein University Hospital, where he gained significant experience in ICUs and the treatment of infectious diseases.
His experience secured him a place as an Infectious Disease Specialist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Tsiodras had the distinction at that time of being the only candidate accepted from a foreign country.
During his four years at Beth Israel, he was trained in the clinical follow-up of a wide range of patients with infectious diseases, including some with complex infections due to immunosuppression.
In November 2000 Tsiodras was awarded the title of Specialist in Infectious Diseases after successfully attending the Certification Examinations of the American Board of Internal Medicine subspecialty of Infectious Diseases.
Upon his return to Greece in 2001 he began working as an infectious disease specialist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO).
In 2005 Tsiodras participated in the organization and planning of influenza pandemic measures and in completing the National Pandemic Plan as a member of the authoring team.
He also participated in 4-member committees of the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (European CDC), which inspected EU member states Italy and Hungary in preparation for a national influenza pandemic.
Tsiodras as target of leftist opposition
Being the man appointed by the Prime Minister to deal with the difficult task of informing people about Covid-19 and suggesting prevention measures such as the first lockdown, Tsiodras soon became the target of leftist opposition.
After the first wave of the pandemic and with Greece moving cautiously into the summer and a semblance of normalcy, Tsiodras stepped aside. After all, the infection numbers in the daily reports of the pandemic were by that time dropping so low as to be insignificant.
Nevertheless, the political opposition accused the government of having used the popular epidemiologist as a pawn in its pro-called “dubious plans,” and Tsiodras himself as willingly accepting to play the role.
Regardless of the opposition propaganda, Tsiodras remains as popular as he was in the first months of the pandemic. On Sunday, he became inoculated against the virus right after the Prime Minister.
Humble and as ever, he sat on the chair and received the vaccine, just as calm and collected as the Greek public expected him to be. When a reporter asked him if he was afraid, Tsiodras replied: “Am I afraid? Of course not.”