ATHENS – Despite stricter protocols put in place after widespread defiance of requirements to wear masks and keep safe distances, a rise in COVID-19 cases has health experts in Greece worried about a second wave of the Coronavirus.
A lockdown March 23 that closed non-essential businesses up to 10 weeks helped to keep down the number of cases and fatalities but the numbers have been creeping up again with the opening of the country to tourists and people not following the health measures.
“It’s clear that the first wave of the pandemic in our country ended in early June,” Gkikas Magiorkinis, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Athens University, told Kathimerini.
“For us to speak of a second wave we will have to see an exponential increase in cases, that is a sudden increase with a doubling of infections in a short period of time and an increase in very serious cases in intensive care units,” he said.
“If cases begin to exceed 100 from next week (Aug. 9,) we can say we are on the brink of a second wave,” he said, estimating the probability of that happening at 70 percent.
The enemy seems to be complacency, with wild partying going on around the country, especially on islands and mostly among the young, and 150 euro ($176.54) fines for violations not seem to deter defiance.
While masks were required in supermarkets of customers and workers, there were scenes where that wasn't being enforced either with no reports of punishment for the market owners.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was worried enough to plan a virtual meeting for Aug. 3 with ministers and experts to discuss the latest increase in the COVID-19 cases, the New Democracy government scrambling for answers.
After a lull in cases brought hopes the virus was on its way out, there's been gradual increases, with 75 more alone on Aug. 2 after 110 the day before and uncertainty after Greece opened to cruise ships, virtual breeding grounds.
Mixed with the anxiety, however, are some good signs, including that infections whose source can't be traced remained steady at 10-12 a day although there wasn't an explanation why that couldn't also bring a jump in cases.
The government has extended mask requirements to all public gathering places indoors with few exemptions, with churches – first spared – also put on the list for mandatory masks.
But health authorities will face the fear that if the cases keep coming that measures to contain it could even get tougher although there hasn't been any serious talk of a second lockdown that could cripple the economy.
Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias also recommended face coverings in crowded outdoor areas and a cap of 100 was put on the number of guests allowed at weddings and christening, a number that could still allow the virus to breed and spread, while a ban on religious festivals has been extended to Aug. 31 as the virus shows resistance and the ability to return.
As of Aug. 2, there were 4,662 cases and 208 deaths, still among the lowest numbers in the world relatively but picking up.