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The Battle of Thessaloniki: COVID-19's Winning This One

Αssociated Press

A pedestrian holds an umbrella as he walks on a coastal avenue 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 -- Greece's second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki continued to be the country's hot spot for COVID-19 where it had spun out of control so fast the New Democracy government, after imposing local lockdowns, made it national.

The second shutdown of non-essential businesses hasn't worked, however, to slow spiraling cases, deaths and the numbers of people needing to be put on ventilators and in Intensive Care Units (ICU's) that are running out fast.

The number of ICU beds and ventilators had been doubled during the eight-month pandemic but it turned out not to be enough, leading the government to commander private hospitals only after public hospitals were overtaken.

Thessaloniki had 774 cases on Nov. 19, higher than Athens, which has more than three times the population, the port city even in a first lockdown becoming a symbol of defiance of health measures aimed at slowing the spread in the spring.

The northern port city of Thessaloniki continued to report the highest number of new coronavirus infections in the country on Thursday, with more cases than Athens, which has around three times its population.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit hardest in northern Greece, in the city and the areas around it, places like Serres, Pella, Drama, Pieria and Halkidiki seeing the numbers spike, as did Larissa, Imathia and Magnesia.

The signs the struggle was being lost in Thessaloniki showed on Nov. 10.

when the government, which admitted waiting too long, implemented an emergency plan there.

It was done, said Kathimerini, because of mounting pressure on Intensive Care Units (ICU's) although the government at that point 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 were coming back positive, suggesting a higher transmission rate, a key indicator.

An analysis of sewage in Thessaloniki that earlier seemed to show signs the number of cases was dropping wasn't an accurate picture, said Kathimerini, with health officials saying it instead showed a reduction in the acceleration rate of cases only.