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Greece's Lenient Lockdown Not Working, COVID-19 Spreads Around Athens

Αssociated Press

A man runs up Philopappos hill as the city of Athens is seen on the background on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - A second lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Greece - far more lenient than a first - hasn’t been effective enough - leading health officials to worry over signs the outbreak continues in Attica, around the country’s capital.

There has been a 20 percent jump in cases since Christmas, when the government eased back some of the restrictions on businesses, allowing customers to order online and pick up goods at stores with a reservation.

“There is already an upward trend in Attica, taking into account wastewater analyses, which is a very good indicator,” infectious diseases expert Athanasios Skoutelis told Kathimerini.

“The problem is that Athens constitutes half the country’s population and what happens in Attica has an impact on the whole country,” he added, worry piling up as COVID-19 comes in the winter and collides with the flu season.

“Low temperatures lead to confinement indoors and therefore the easier transmission of respiratory viruses. But I don’t know what is worse: the increase in transmissibility indoors in the middle of a lockdown or the increase in transmissibility outdoors, given the crowds over the weekend, due to the good weather,” he said.

Since Christmas the number of daily cases around the country has on average remained stable at about 650 a day and there has been a gradual decline in the number of people on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs.) The Big Worry now though is what will happen next after the New Democracy government allowed the Greek Church to openly violate health measures by holding Epiphany Day celebrations which led to some crowding in churches.

“We are waiting to see the results of the relaxation of the measures during the three holidays: Christmas, New Year and Epiphany. Now is when the ‘bad’ numbers will appear,” said Skoutelis.

Despite the troubling numbers, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been trying to balance saving lives and the battered economy with reports he will let stores again return to the so-called click-and-collect method that had been temporarily suspended after Christmas.

The second lockdown began Nov. 7 and has been extended four times to Jan. 18 with the government’s panel of doctors and scientists to give Mitsotakis advice on when it should reopen.