Crunch Time in Greece Over Soaring COVID-19 During Lockdown

Αssociated Press

Priests wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, attend the funeral of senior clergyman Ioannis of Lagadas after he died of COVID-19, in Greece s Orthodox Church, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS – Greece has entered a critical period in trying to stem a near-tsunami of COVID-19 cases, deaths and people on ventilators in overwhelmed public hospitals, health officials hoping the numbers will lessen as as they soar.

The 10th day of a second lockdown was marked Nov. 17 with the country paying a price for people defying health protocols, including not wearing masks, staying safe social distances and in public gatherings, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis blaming the young for going to night clubs he allowed to stay open.

Given a lag period between tightened measures and the resulting effect, health authorities don't expect to see a lessening of the pandemic's deadly new grip for some days.

They said restrictions can be loosened only if daily cases drop to around 500, from a current level of between 2,000-3,000 a day, after another 2,198 were reported, bringing the total to 76, 403 cases and 1,165 deaths.

With 400 people on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) there was also worry there wouldn't be enough although the government, while saying patients without COVID-19 would be moved to private clinics, hadn't moved to also use ventilators and ICUS there, places available only to those with money. 

“Another tough week lies ahead, following the critical week that already passed,” Athens University professor and government adviser Vana Papaevangelou said of the second wave.

“We hope to start smiling by next Monday (Nov. 23) that the number of intubated patients and deaths will start dropping in the next two weeks,” she added, said Kathimerini, after the Health Ministry warned that almost 80% of intensive care beds set aside at Greece’s coronavirus referral hospitals were full.

Northern Greece has been the hardest hit with 95 percent of intensive care beds in COVID-19 wards in the country's second-largest city, Thessaloniki, as well as Halkidiki, Katerini and Kavala occupied.

Thessaloniki’s Papanikolaou Hospital, meanwhile, said that it expected to run out of ICU beds for COVID19 patients on Nov. 17 but there were no plans to take over units at private hospitals or clinics.

Thessaloniki reported some 491 new coronavirus infections to Attica’s 492 – including Athens – on Nov. 16, and also has about five times the capital’s epidemiological load, despite having roughly one-third of the population.

“Put simply, if Attica were in the same state as Thessaloniki, it would have more than 2,200 diagnoses a day,” infectious disease expert and government adviser Gkikas Magiorkinis said.