ATHENS – Greeks hoping for Christmas family dinner and stores hoping for holiday shoppers to save the disastrous year of COVID-19 that's kept them closed for months are looking extend at a second lockdown being extended.
A three-week shutdown of non-essential businesses began Nov. 7 and was due to be lifted Dec. 1 to save the holiday season that provides critical revenues to businesses closed up to 10 weeks during a first lockdown that began in March.
But with cases, deaths and the numbers of people needing to be put into Intensive Care Units (ICU's) and on ventilators soaring out of control after some defiance of health care protocols and nightclubs being allowed to stay open, health officials are said to fear the lockdown could go on into the winter.
Sources not named told Kathimerini the question now is not whether Greeks will celebrate New Year’s Eve and Christmas, but whether there will be enough ICU units for Coronavirus patients if the cases keep going up as as fast they have.
Greece on Nov. 12 had another record cases, 3,316, with 50 deaths and 316 patients on ventilators and signs that the second wave is getting worse despite stricter health measures that had been in place before the second lockdown.
Health authorities reportedly told Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who wanted to try to save the Christmas season and prevent a second shock to the economy, that a three-week lockdown isn't long enough.
Speaking to Kathimerini, Athanasios Tsakris, Professor of Microbiology and Vice Rector of Athens University, also member of government's health advisory committee, said, “Our experience from this epidemic is that if a limit has been passed – that is, if shows exponential growth rates – it is very difficult to ‘go back.’”
“In this case, too, a very long period of implementation of the restrictive measures is required to see their results. This has been shown by the experience of the first wave, especially in countries where the epidemic had already progressed when national lockdowns were implemented,” he said.
The Coronavirus spreads more easily in colder temperatures and now is set to collide with the flu season that has also proved deadly in recent years, bringing added worry about the burden on public hospitals.
Tsakris said it has become more contagious since the first epidemic wave. “From the first months of the pandemic in our country, more than 70% of the samples examined in our laboratory carry the mutation that has increased its transmissibility,” he said.
The government has faced criticism over its handling of a second wave after Mitsotakis drew praise for an early lockdown in March before a single death and as he admitted he waited too long this year after seeing how fast it was spreading in Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city and major port.
Mitsotakis admitted that tougher restrictions should have been taken a week ago in Thessaloniki to avoid the rampant spread of the virus. “
We could have imposed the use of face masks everywhere earlier, limited evening entertainment earlier, taken measures in Thessaloniki earlier,” he said. “We tried many plans but they were betrayed by the behavior of some people,” he said. “The main source for the spread was the entertainment of young people,” he said without noting he allowed nightclubs to stay open.
The major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras accused Mitsotakis of not acting quickly enough, as did other rival politicians, with the New Democracy leader responding that Tsipras was a “failed prime minister.”