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COVID-19's Critical Factor in Greece: Reducing The R Number

Αssociated Press

Pedestrians wearing face masks walk in Athens, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Greek authorities introduced tougher restrictions the last days following an increase in infections.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

R.

That's the important symbol for Greek health officials as they try to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 brought by people defying health measures and tourists bringing into the country with them.

R refers to the “effective reproduction number” that is a way of measuring an infectious disease’s capacity to spread, signifying the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus to. An R value of 1 is the crucial threshold that Greece hit.

There were 380 cases in the first five days of August, raising R to 1, bringing worry that each person infected can now spread it to another and the numbers beginning to multiply geometrically unless brought under control again.

There were 4,973 cases and 210 deaths as of Aug. 5, leading the New Democracy government to announce more measures including wearing masks in all indoor public spaces although that's been widely ignored, driving up the numbers.

Greece’s R number was 0.4 in mid-July, the rapid jump worrying health officials enough to include fears there could be a second wave after a March 23 lockdown that lasted up to 10 weeks for some businesses brought the number of cases and R number down.

Some 22 cases were found in Attica around Greece's capital city while many of the remainder were traced to weddings, a meat processing factory in Kavala and a military facility in Volos.

There are also concerns about four unsourced infections at Thessaloniki’s Gennimata Hospital and six doctors from hospitals in Larissa who tested positive for the virus while on holiday in Halkidiki, said Kathimerini.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said August would be a crucial month for the evolution of the virus and urged people to follow health rules, especially after scenes of wild partying on islands such as Mykonos, hundreds of people jammed against each other.

“We must all be careful,” he said. “No one is invulnerable,” he said, with signs that many people weren't listening or didn't care.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned against complacency but apart from reports of hundreds of fines of 150 euros ($177.85) issued for individual violators there weren't any mass closings of clubs or taverns breaking the rules.

Speaking at the start of a teleconference on developments concerning the pandemic, he said the recent “significant rise” in new cases is different from that observed at the start of the pandemic.

“The increase in new cases is mainly due to a relaxation of the compliance measures within our country in July. And I believe we all have a responsibility for this. Only 10 percent of cases are imported; most cases at the moment are domestic,” he said.