ATHENS – Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus is spreading fast in Greece, leading the New Democracy government to seal off a second region and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis imposing tighter restrictions.
Mitsotakis, who locked down the country in March, keeping some businesses closed up to 10 weeks, was credited with saving lives and holding down the number of cases then but has been reluctant to do it again, fearing a disastrous effect on a staggering economy.
But after cases soared to 865 on Oct. 21, the hard-hit region of Kastoria joined Kozani in being locked down, residents unable to travel, and the government will implement more health measures in other areas where cases are jumping.
Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said said in Kastoria that people must wear face masks everywhere, while public and private gatherings, as well as travel outside the region, will be banned. Shops, gyms, courts, restaurants, cinemas and museums will close.
Hardalias also said that the regions of Thessaloniki, Viotia, Larissa and Serres will be categorized as level 3 in the tiered system, just below the top level where lockdowns will be ordered, showing the fight against COVID-19 is slipping.
Mitsotakis was set to lead a meeting of health experts Oct. 22 to discuss whether to impose even more restrictions to regions which have seen a big spike in cases, the worry being it's spreading because the young especially won't wear masks, stay away from each other and party.
Under consideration is a curfew from 12:30 a.m. until 5 a.m. to try to stop the partying after clubs close at midnight although police have been ordered not to try to break up the gatherings, the government now considering a ban on them.
Of the 865 new infections 331 were in Attica and 181 in Thessaloniki. The new cases pushed the total number of cases since the onset of the pandemic to 27,334 while six new fatalities edged the death toll up to 534. A total of 86 patients were intubated.
A big worry among health authorities is that hospitals could be overwhelmed although the New Democracy government, with the help of the Diaspora and a few philantropists – absent shipping oligarchs – has more than doubled the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity but even that is being pushed to the limit.
“The bad scenario that our country faces would be an uncontrolled increase in serious cases and intubated patients,” Alkiviadis Vatopoulos, a Professor of Microbiology at the University of West Attica, told Kathimerini.
A doubling of intubated patients within a week, for instance, would put serious pressure on the national health service, he said and now attention is turning to the rapidly-rising rate of fatalities, with 143 in October compared to 125 in September and 60 in August, fears too the infections are spreading and not showing as clusters.