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Coronavirus Case Brings Scare to Greece, Measures Stepped Up, Calm Urged

February 27, 2020

THESSALONIKI- The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Greece – a woman who had been to Italy where it has spread and become deadly, led health officials to put stronger measures in place, end vacations for hospital staff and urge the public not to panic.

The woman, 38, from Thessaloniki, and her family were put in quarantine for at least two weeks but no identifications were given in keeping with the country’s privacy laws that generally prohibit the release of such information, even for a public health case.

Experts at the National Health Organization (EODY) were trying to find all those who were in contact with her during her visit to northern Italy, the region hardest hit and where the scare has led to major tourist areas such as Venice, being nearly abandoned.

Health officials said anyone with symptoms – high temperature, cough, shortness of breath – to remain at home and seek advice from their doctor or EODY.

Reports of possible cases were said to have multiplied, leading the Health Ministry to revoke the vacations of medical staff at hospitals and clear pace in the wards of Thessaloniki’s AHEPA Hospital where the woman is being treated, said Kathimerini.

The head a Greek Health Ministry committee of experts on contagious diseases, Dimitris Tsiodras, said most cases of the virus are mild and that the public should observe basic hygiene rules such as frequent hand-washing and covering their mouths when coughing.

The government measures would include restricting travelers from countries where it has appeared and other parts of the scheme go as far as almost shutting down the country including suspending schools, universities, churches, theaters, cinemas, sports, and public services, said government spokesman Stelios Petsas of a legislative act, the paper said.

Travelers from virus-hit countries could be hit with bars at air, sea, rail and road links to keep them out as Greece has already done in suspending its visa service in China, where the virus first appeared.

The suspension will include all enclosed areas where public gatherings take place, as well as restrictions on public transport, which could effectively shut down the country as the revenue-critical tourist season approaches.
While urging Greeks to observe basic rules of hygiene, such as frequent hand washing and covering your mouth while coughing, or sneezing into your arm, health officials said there’s no reason to panic.

Tsiodras said the woman being hospitalized is not in danger and that her case is “mild,” adding that, “She is in good health and being monitored by a team of excellent colleagues in Thessaloniki.”

Pharmacies in Greece’s second-largest city were running out of face masks used to prevent its transmission, the state-run Athens Macedonia news agency (ANA-MPA) reported.

Speaking to ANA-MPA, the vice president of Thessaloniki Pharmacists Association Anna Sidiropoulou said shortages were the result of “unjustified panic” among the public.

RUN ON THE MARKETS

Despite the call for calm, anxiety ramped up in Thessaloniki, with people pouring into supermarkets to buy goods to stock up for an emergency, with reports sales soared 20 percent, coinciding with raised sales for the March 2 Whit Monday holiday.

Anyone arriving in Greece from Italy with symptoms of the virus should stay home and inform their doctor or health authorities, he said.

Sources not identified told the paper that three people believed to have been in contact with the 38-year-old were examined and EODY experts contacted passengers she traveled with on the flight from Milan to Thessaloniki – those sitting up to two seats from her in every direction.

As a preventive measure, the primary school in Thessaloniki where the 38-year-old woman’s child is a pupil was temporarily shut down.

As anxiety grows the coronavirus could spread more as tourist season approaches, the National Public Health Organization has sent teams to the western port city of Patras which has direct ferry links to Italy, where the disease has been deadly and closed whole regions.

There have been seven deaths and at least 200 cases in Italy and earlier reports said an Italian doctor who attended a conference in Greece was diagnosed with the virus when he returned, raising the worry even more.
Greek health teams will inform crews of passenger and merchant ships arriving from Italy on measures to protect themselves from the virus and officials will also try to identify people who had visited regions in Italy affected by the virus.

There haven’t been reports that Greece will bar Italian tourists as has happened with Chinese after Greece temporarily closed its visa office in that country, where the virus began and has been particularly deadly. For the same reasons, the unit will visit the port of Igoumenitsa on the western coast, another spot where hundreds of ferry passengers arrive daily from Italy’s Ancona.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said authorities have taken every measure to protect the country against the spread of the new coronavirus after the death toll rose in Italy, where even troops were being called out to seal off affected towns.

“We have taken all the necessary precautions to safeguard the public’s health. We are organized and structured, and this is proved by the fact that we have successfully dealt with all suspicious cases so far,” Kilkilias told reporters in Athens, following a briefing of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Earlier, however, authorities at the international airport outside Athens allowed Chinese tourists who landed to go to the popular tourist island of Santorini, before Greece closed its visa office in China.

Kikilias said he briefed Mitsotakis and key Cabinet ministers on the latest developments concerning the virus, which surged in parts of Italy promoting fears that it could spread to Greece, said Kathimerini.

He also appealed to the media to maintain a “serious” stance in its coverage of the outbreak by avoiding misinformation and fearmongering and prevent setting off a panic as has happened in parts of Italy where people have cleaned out supermarkets and were hunkering down.

“It is our duty to defend public health and this means we need to inform citizens in a serious and proper manner, through the proper channels,” he also said.

Kikilias added that 13 hospitals around Greece are on standby to receive any suspicious cases and that special guidelines have been given to all hospitals, medical centers, paramedics, ambulance workers, port and airport officials.

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