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Emergency Plan in Place for COVID-19 Overrun Thessaloniki

Αssociated Press

A man wearing a face mask against the spread of the coronavirus, rides an electric scooter in front of the White Tower 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 -- While Greek officials keep insisting a second wave of COVID-19 is being managed and hospitals aren't being overwhelmed – the numbers show otherwise – the New Democracy government implemented an emergency plan in the country's second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

It was done, said Kathimerini, because of mounting pressure on Intensive Care Units (ICU's) although the government hadn't moved, as it said it would, to commandeer private hospitals and clinics for critical cases.

“The big moment of the great battle in Thessaloniki has come. Unfortunately, we did not pay attention,” said Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias, adding that 32 percent of all COVID-19 tests performed in Thessaloniki are coming back positive, suggesting a higher transmission rate.

He also denounced claims from the major opposition SYRIZA Progressive Alliance which he said spread false information people are on waiting lists to get into ICU's.

As of Nov. 10, only eight of the 118 ICU beds in the city were available, then shrinking to three, setting off an alarm as the pandemic, in its eighth month is growing after many people wouldn't wear masks nor stay a safe social distance of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) from each other.

In the prefecture of Attica, which includes Athens, just 48 of 164 Covid ICU beds, 48 were vacant on Nov. 10 although the numbers, as well as ventilators, had been increased markedly since the Coronavirus hit.

When the pandemic hit in February and March, Thessaloniki became a kind of symbol of defiance of measures aimed at spreading the Coronavirus, scenes of people not wearing masks as the walked and mingled on the waterfront walkway.

The Health Ministry said it would add 50 beds in Thessaloniki by converting  neurosurgical, cardiac and vascular surgery units instead of putting patients in private hospitals, where the cost would have to be paid by the state.

A ward of the 424 General Military Hospital in Thessaloniki will be converted into a COVID-19 unit too for patients, not just those needing ICU's or ventilators and the plan could see some air-lifted to other hospitals around the country.

The flights will be made with a specially equipped C-130 aircraft, the paper said, and would send, as needed, patients to ICU's in other prefectures, primarily in Thessaly, Central Greece, where private clinics could be taken over.

There were 263 patients in ICU's across the country compared to 169 the week before but Kikilias said the National Health System (ESY) was coping despite the mounting pressure.

Anastasia Kotanidou, professor of pulmonology-intensive care at Athens University and head of the committee for the design of new ICUs at ESY, said the mortality rate of 35-37 percent in ICU's is low compared to other countries as most of the critically ill survive.