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Crowds On Thessaloniki Seaside During Pandemic, Viral Load Soars 61%

Αssociated Press

A couple wearing face masks against the spread of the coronavirus, sit on a bench during the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI -- During the more than year-long COVID-19 pandemic, Thessaloniki - Greece’s second largest city and major northern port - has had the dubious distinction of often leading in jumping cases and defiance of health measures.

It’s happened again even as the New Democracy government is going to ease a quasi-lockdown that was already being largely ignored in Thessaloniki, with pictures of massive crowds on the famed seaside promenade.

That’s next to the water but it’s what’s in the water - sewage - that has startled health officials again, an analysis finding a 61 percent jump in the Coronavirus, detected by a team from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh).

The findings were 41 percent higher than an earlier analysis only a few days before, said Kathimerini, showing how difficult it’s been to contain the pandemic, especially with faster-spreading variants.

“It seems that the city is re-entering a difficult period, where on the one hand the viral load is at high levels, on the other hand hospitals have reached capacity,” said Nikos Papaioannou, the head of the research project, and university rector.

“Unfortunately, the lack of observance of the restrictive measures in the last few weeks has caused a spike in the number of cases, despite the continued vaccination of the population,” he added.

During a government briefing on the pandemic, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the ministry “is concerned” about the situation in Thessaloniki and that he asked Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias to develop a strategy to help slow the spread.

It wasn’t said if that would include getting tougher on violators as the government said it wants to ease so-called “lockdown fatigue,” and let retail stores open with conditions that could see more people on the streets again, or the waterfront, especially in Thessaloniki.