ATHENS – Warnings from health experts that Greece's spiraling COVID-19 daily case rate that was already soaring could triple to 1,000 or more has led the New Democracy government to reconsider bringing a second lockdown.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has resisted doing so, fearing it could cripple a still struggling economy struggling to rebound from a first lockdown in March that closed non-essential businesses up to 10 weeks.
Tourists were allowed to enter in July but the summer numbers were disappointing, leading to reluctance to shut down the country again, but the numbers have kept rising with many people still ignoring health protocols.
Foreign visitors also brought infections with them and hopes to get the pandemic under control have been dashed repeatedly, with six schools closing three days after they opened over outbreaks and fear of a faster spread.
A new lockdown is a real possibility if infections continue to increase at the current rate, a Professor of medicine at the University of Athens who sits on the expert committee advising the Greek government said.
“Never say never with lockdowns. If necessary, it will be done, if the situation with the pandemic continues, especially in Attica, we will undoubtedly go into the lockdown,” Dr. Nikos Sypsas told television channel ANT1.
He also pointed to another critical factor, the rising number of people in Intensive Car Units (ICU's) while younger people are contracting the disease after refusing to wear masks, stay safe social distances and partying.
“The next step, if the [current] measures do not work, is to restrict the movement of citizens,” he continued, noting that this restriction may be weekly.
Sypsas said the committee will monitor the situation over the next 10 -14 days to see if the current measures that aren't working will work.
“If the upward trend continues, we may resort to the extreme measure,” he added, urging people to obey the health protocols to protect themselves and others but there are anti-masker and conspiracy theory groups who think COVID-19 is either a hoax or a government plan ton control or kill them.
“This is no time to be relaxed. Things are getting serious,” he said as the case rate is regularly now surpassing 300 a day, and deaths still rising, six months after the pandemic took hold on the world.
The public health sector and hospitals had been beefed up with more ventilators, with help from the Diaspora and some philanthropists – excepting Greece's shipping barons and oligarchs who have done essentially nothing – but the system could be stretched hard if the numbers keep rising, doctors said.
Speaking on SKAI TV, infectious disease expert Marios Lazanas and Aristotle University Environmental Engineering Professor Dimosthenis Sarigiannis said, “There is a progressive upward trend in cases that began in August, and especially in Attica, which has compelled us to recommend new measures.”
With Greece’s Intensive Care Units already at 60% capacity, Lazanas expressed fears that the “pressure will continue to grow,” noting a shift toward more young who defy health measures being infected and more people on ventilators.
Sarigiannis also warned of the dangers lying ahead with the onset of winter. “Based on calculations, starting in late October with the change in the weather, in the virus’ transmissibility and on a range of other factors such as the start of the flu season, we will see even bigger surges in November and December,” he said.
“If we allow the virus to evolve, we may even reach four-digit daily infection rates,” Sarigiannis warned.
Localized lockdowns were mentioned by government spokesman Stelios Petsas, who told SKAI TV that while the option is on the table, it would be a “worst-case scenario.”