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The Cost of Defiance: COVID-19 Second Wave Settles Over Greece

Αssociated Press

A tourist wearing a face mask against the spread of the new coronavirus, leaves Stoa Attalos in the ancient Agora archeological museum in Athens, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS -- COVID-19 is back in Greece, a second wave brought by people refusing to obey health measures such as wearing masks and keeping a safe social distance, tourists, but especially young people partying on islands and elsewhere.

That was the assessment of one of the country's top infectious diseases experts, University of Athens Assistant Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology Gkikas Magiorkinis, after the country on Aug. 9 recorded a record 203 infections in a 24-hour period. 

“We can say that Greece has formally entered a second wave of the epidemic. This is the point that we could win or lose the battle,” he said, adding that cases could surge to 350 a day if the “dramatic increase” continues, the British newspaper The Guardian reported about the virus spreading over Europe again.

He said Greece was at a critical crossroads as the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who – based on the advice of a team of scientists and doctors on March 23 brought an early lockdown saving lives is seeing the cases jump again and scrambling to contain it.

The government opened the borders to tourists in July and while there have been a number of cases brought into the country most of the problem lies with Greeks who, until recent days, had resorted to pre-COVID-19 life.

“Unless there is a change in the trend that we are seeing we are likely to propose more measures along the lines we have seen in Poros,” said Magiorkinis, referring to an island near Athens where 30 cases were found and the police chief removed for not enforcing health protocols.

That's been the attitude across the country until new fears settled in and more people began wearing masks and staying away from each other but some businesses, especially supermarkets, were letting people in without masks.

Trying to balance saving lives against saving the economy which could bring a collapse and a disaster on a par with the pandemic, Mitsotakis opened the country and has been reluctant to think of a second lockdown or get tougher.

The government has responded with half-measures such as requiring nightclubs to close earlier without any explanation why people couldn't catch the virus before 11 p.m. in crowded establishments.

Health MinisterVassilis Kikilias, said transmission of the virus was “growing dangerously and hinted that further containment measures were likely to be announced without saying why it wasn't being done now as cases spike.

As the government has vacillated on what to do, Kikilias said that the biggest concern now was “the degree to which this epidemic can stretch any health system”, he said. “No health system, anywhere in the world, can cope effectively with a full epidemic resurgence.”

Greece's public hospitals and the health sector, caught offguard whenthe pandemic hit, was saved by the lockdown as there were not enough Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds or respirators but so many more have been added that health officials said they were confident of being able to deal with a resurgence.

While tourism was partly to blame, Magiorkinis attributed the recent Greek resurgence mostly to lax observance of hygiene protocols by Greeks, particularly younger generations who flooded bars and beaches in recent weeks, the newspaper said.