GR US

Longer Lockdown Looms Over COVID-19, Pandemic Hangs Tough in Greece

Αssociated Press

Medical personnel conducts a COVID-19 rapid test at a drive-through testing site, at Glyfada suburb, south of Athens, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS – A too-slow drop in the number of cases and deaths and people in hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU's) means Greece's second lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 will again be pushed back, this time past Dec. 7.

The closing of non-essential businesses and measures meant to keep people home – which haven't worked as many are still venturing out on what they claim are essential missions – began Nov. 7 but the pandemic worsened.

Alkiviadis Vatopoulos, a Professor of Microbiology and one of the scientific and medical experts on the government’s advisory committee, said on SKAI TV that, “We have seen a small ray of hope in recent days with the new cases, but this does not mean we can relax.”

That came a day after the National Public Health Organization (EODY) reported 1,044 new cases on Nov. 30, down from 2,013 on Nov. 27, another 1,747 on Nov. 28 and 1,193 on Nov. 29.

While there's been a decline in the spreading of the Coronavirus after it spiked when too many people weren't wearing masks or staying a safe social distance from each other, the numbers are still too high to justify ending the lockdown, he said.

The numbers will have to fall back to between 300-500 a day before there can even be any talk about easing the lockdown, he said, and allowing stores to open in time for the Christmas holiday period. 

His caution was joined by another committee member, Vana Papaevangelou, who told a Health Ministry briefing that despite the drop in cases in many areas that the public health system is still under strain, private hospitals still largely not being used as Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed.

“The extent of the virus and the pressure on intensive care units at the country’s hospitals are the key parameters,” she said, reported Kathimerini, adding that more progress is needed before the lockdown can end.

According to EODY’s data, the novel coronavirus is present in almost all of Greece’s 74 regional units, with 18 of those – mainly in northern and central Greece – the hardest hit, especially the country's second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

The number of critical cases is so high in Thessaly that hospital ICU units are full, as are beds in hospitals in the region, two private hospitals in use to help deal with the pandemic.

Mitsotakis said any decision on when to lift the restrictions will be based on “data, not dates,” despite his desire to help businesses already teetering over a spring lockdown that lasted 10 weeks and put many under, others battered.

The newspaper said he told his ministers that while he was cautiously optimistic that science has to decide but warned that more “tough days” are ahead in the struggle to save lives and the economy.

Like the rest of the world, Greece is counting on vaccines arriving by the end of the year to help cope but even that would take months to have any effect as the number of shots isn't enough for everyone, the first set to go to front-line workers and the most susceptible, the elderly and with underlying conditions.

“This will depend on having as few losses as possible until then and this, in turn, depends on us showing as much consistency as possible right now,” he said after he admitted waiting too long to bring another lockdown and blaming young people for spreading the virus by going to nightclubs he let stay open.

He said that any decisions on easing restrictions need to be “made cautiously” and “bearing in mind the recommendations of experts.” “The road may seem longer, but it will certainly be safer,” Mitsotakis said.

“Our path may seem slower, but it will be safer and more secure. And above all, it must be a road without setbacks,” he said. “We should not talk with dates, but with data,” he also said.

The worry apart from the tragic loss of life is that the economy couldn't withstand a third lockdown with many restaurants already shuttered during the second – many for good – and other businesses drained of their ability to stay afloat much longer.

That has left him with trying to balance the ending of the lockdown to keep people safe but also save businesses that were just beginning to speed recovery from a near decade-long austerity and economic crisis when the pandemic struck and a lifting likely not coming until Dec. 21, too late to save Christmas.

But that would still allow people to have family meals during the holidays that could again spread the disease even if there are restrictions on gatherings that couldn't be enforced in homes and private get-togethers.

Schools were set to be the first to reopen but that increasingly looks to be not until after the holidays into the near-middle of January, 2021 with prospects of a dark winter for health.