ATHENS – While insisting public hospitals can handle an overflow of rising COVID-19 cases, the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is reportedly looking at extending lockdowns around Greece to the capital and surrounding area.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said a second nationwide lockdown was one possible step to try to slow the spread of the pandemic, now more than seven months long and growing.
“The measures will get stricter if we do not adhere to them,” Petsas told SKAI radio after the government repeatedly said it wouldn't happen. New restrictions include a midnight to 5 a.m. public curfew along with the mandatory use of face masks in all public areas.
Alarm grew as tighter measures have failed to slow a resurgence of the Coronavirus that saw a record 2,166 cases recorded on Nov. 3, bringing the total to 44,246, some 542 in the Attica prefecture including Athens, said Kathimerini.
Another 13 deaths pushed that grim toll to 655 and the number of patients on ventilators in hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) additional 13 fatalities pushed the death toll up to 655 while the number of intubated Covid patients was 169.
In Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city and major port that was already locked down, there were 595 more cases, and concern is growing over pressure on hospitals despite Mitsotakis saying it was “completely manageable.”
Some 70 percent of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients in Attica were taken, the paper reported, after a 30 percent rise in one week in infections, and tests taken on sewage in Attica showed there could be 52,000 more in the region.
Mitsotakis, applauded for bringing an early lockdown in March that lasted up to 10 weeks for most non-essential businesses, holding down the number of cases and deaths, has been reluctant to do it again nationally, fearing the faltering economy couldn't take another shock.
Deputy Health Minister Vassilis Kontozamanis said 209 of the country’s 331 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients are occupied. In Thessaloniki, 63 of the 83 ICU beds are taken and in Attica 99 of the 140.
“The occupancy of the ICU beds is one of the factors that will determine whether more strict measures will be taken in Attica,” Haralambos Gogos, epidemiologist at the University of Patra, told Kathimerini.
In terms of ICU bed availability, Attica is just below the level at which a full lockdown will be required. “We’ll see how the situation develops in the coming days in the hope that the pandemic will be restrained due to the new measures,” he said.
“We have no scope for complacency,” said Gkikas Magiorkinis, Assistant Professor of epidemiology at Athens University, saying the spike has been driven by people not wearing masks or staying a safe social distance, largely by going to restaurants and bars now closed for a month in hardest-hit prefectures.
Dismissing anti-mask movements, he said an infected person not wearing a mask in an enclosed area is 10 times more likely to spread COVID-19 than someone wearing one.