Cases Unchecked, ICUs Filling, Greece Extends COVID-19 Lockdown

Αssociated Press

People queue outside the town hall in Chania, on the Greek island of Crete, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, to conduct rapid tests for the COVID-19. (AP Photo/Harry Nakos)

ATHENS - A third more restrictive quasi-lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 hasn’t worked well enough in Greece and will be extended past the end of February until at least mid-March.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is trying to balance saving lives and an economy battered by shutdowns of non-essential businesses for half the previous 12 months, said the epidemiological data gave him no choice but to keep the lockdown in place.

Greek health authorities announced 1,913 new cases on Feb. 24, raising the total around the country of 10.7 million people to 186,686, with 28 more deaths bringing the toll to 6,371.

Of special concern though was that the number of those needing to be put on ventilators in public hospitals filled capacity to near 90 percent, and worry about variants of the Coronavirus as a vaccination campaign has been slowly rolling out.

The Athens area, where half of Greece’s population lives, has been under tightened restrictions but people can leave their homes for a variety of permissible reasons and get instant permission on cell phones.

“There has been a steep rise in infections yesterday, particularly in Athens, which pushes back our plan … for a gradually reopening on March 1,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting, said Kathimerini.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said later the wider Athens area currently had the heaviest burden although the government has made no move, as promised, to use private hospital ICU’s with doctors there resisting calls to help.

“I ask everyone to be a little more patient,” he told a regular briefing after the government heard from its advisory panel of doctors and scientists making recommendations on health protocols.

Schools are closed and only essential shops operate in Athens, while night curfews restrict movement but during the day traffic on the streets and pedestrian walkways and around business areas is almost normal.