ATHENS – Refusal by most people in Greece to be vaccinated and others ignoring what's left of lenient COVID-19 lockdown health measures could spur a fourth wave of the Coronavirus, health officials said.
With the Delta variant from India set to become the dominant strain, the combination of factors could undercut Greece's hopes for a big tourism summer to help a battered economy just as cases had been waning.
Greece's advisory panel of doctors, scientists and infectious diseases analysts were said worried about a resurgence of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, saying lagging vaccinations are the major problem.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been slow to pull the trigger on making inoculations mandatory, even for health care workers but said he would consider doing so in the autumn, too late to save the summer for tourism.
Instead, he's pleading, urging and cajoling people to get their shots, noting that five million of the country's 10.7 million people have gotten at least one of two required shots of most vaccines, but only 38.2 percent have been fully protected and only 47.7 percent have gotten one shot.
The prime minister has urged more citizens to make an appointment to receive the Covid vaccination, noting that five million have already done so.
“Every day, thousands of Greeks become part of the great national effort to shield public health. Book your appointment, too!” he said, a call that's being ignored by people who believe the vaccines aren't safe or effective or are part of an international conspiracy to affect their DNA.
With cases falling below the 400 mark daily, there is fear they could spike to more than 2,000 by the end of July even as many are partying on islands and in clubs and taverns and restaurants allowed to open, especially on islands.
Dimosthenis Sarigiannis, a Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki told SKAI TV that unless the pandemic is beaten back with vaccinations that, “We can go up to 1,500 (daily) cases by July 20 and to about 2,000 by the end of the month.”
THE DELTA WATCH
Greece confirmed 1,797 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, with 8 of these identified at entry points to the country, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) said on Tuesday, with the positivity rate jumping from 1.2 to 2 percent in just over a week, leading the health panel to step up a review of the epidemiological data.
Professor of pathology Charalambos Gogos told Kathimerini there has been a small but worrisome increase in cases that could be a harbinger of what's ahead, “Worrying due to the increased mobility of the population in the summer, and the relaxation of the measures,” he said, while also referring to the contagious Delta variant and the relaxation of mask use.
“Another worrying point is the reduction in the number of vaccinations, which is estimated to be in the range of 20-30 percent from more than 100,000 daily, down to 80,000 to 90,000,” he added.
He also said that unless people return to complying with health measures and get vaccinated that another wave is on the way that could be stopped by following the measures and getting the shos.
He noted that fully vaccinated people have protection from Delta variant between 86-95 percent depending on the vaccine but that a single dose offers only 33 percent, with some people shunning second shots.
Infectious disease expert Sotiris Tsiodras, who had been the face of Greece's battle against the pandemic in 2020, noted that there has been a strong upward trend of the pandemic lately, in Attica, Crete and the South Aegean, “particularly noticeable among younger ages.”
Greece’s vaccinations committee recommended inoculating teenagers aged between 15-17 to further protect more of the population as only those 18 and over are being offered the shots as of now.
“The national vaccinations committee has a positive view on the voluntary vaccination of teenagers 15 to 17 years old, provided parental approval is granted,” Maria Theodoridou, head of the committee, told reporter, said Reuters.
“This summer is being overshadowed by the Delta variant, which can be highly contagious in a very short exposure time,” Theodoridou said. “We believe (vaccinating teenagers) is a safe step towards normality,” she said.