ATHENS - After putting every hospital in the country on alert and to prepare for any cases of the dreaded coronavirus that is spreading from China, the Greek government is adding additional measures after health officials said it could reach the country later this month.
After a meeting of the National Council of Public Health (ESYD) overseen by Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias, the government said it would hire additional staff to reinforce medical laboratories, state hospitals and entry points to the country under emergency procedures, said Kathimerini.
That was after officials in January allowed Chinese tourists who came from the region where the virus hit to depart from the international airport and go to the packed island of Santorini after screening them.
ESYD is to set up a task force that will be responsible for overseeing the response to any cases of the coronavirus that might transpire in Greece with the paper reporting as many as 200 more staff will be hired on short-term contracts as part of the preparations.
Sotiris Tsiodras, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Athens University Medical School said the virus could reach Greece within the next few weeks but didn’t get an assessment of how much of a chance there was it would happen.
By Feb. 3, state health officials had inspected 29 possible cases, one of whom had been characterized as suspicious as he has traveled to Wuhan, the Chinese city where virus first appeared, said to have begun at an unlawful market selling snakes, bats and other species.
“It is time for scientific facts, not fear and rumors,” Tsiodras said. “The virus has not yet come to our country. There is a chance it will come and there is also a very high state of alert,” he said, although the flu has already proved deadlier around the world.
Kikilias too cautioned against misinformation on the issue, while urging the public to seek expert advice as anxiety has risen and an anti-China backlash has begun. Greece temporarily closed its visa office in China to prevent more arrivals.
The meeting in Athens was held after a Greek national was found to be among more than 250 people from 30 countries who were flown out of Wuhan to France where they are to be kept in quarantine for two weeks and subjected to medical tests.
The Greek man who was evacuated to France works as a professor of environmental law in Wuhan and was traveling with his pregnant wife.
Health authorities had already issued directives for travelers that are being updated daily and also sent guidelines to the country’s airports, ports, hospitals and the EKAV ambulance service on how to spot and deal with infected or potentially infected individuals as well.