ATHENS – Anxious about a lenient second COVID-19 lockdown bringing a roller coaster ride of cases going up and down – and now up again – Greece’s New Democracy government’s health experts were in an emergency meeting Feb. 1 said contemplating advising a hard and serious shutdown of businesses.
The meeting, held via teleconference, took place a day after authorities confirmed the first detection of the South African variant of coronavirus in Greece, said Kathimerini.
A new strain that began in the United Kingdom, where measures are lax and said to have originated at a lockdown party, had been detected in Greece and the South African version was found in a 36-year-old Deacon in Thessaloniki.
There have also been 173 cases of people affected with the more contagious and more virulent UK strain, authorities said Jan. 31, a day on which there were 484 more cases and 17 deaths.
The government had already partially retightened health protocols on Jan. 29, only four days after easing them which brought massive crowds to shopping areas and people flocking to churches, many not wearing masks or keeping safe social distances, which can spread the virus fast.
Speaking on SKAI radio, Dr. Nikos Sipsas, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Athens who sits on the expert committee advising the government on the pandemic, did not rule out the possibility of a hard lockdown to again try to control the pandemic.
Worsening the scenario has been the agonizingly slow rollout of a vaccination campaign that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the tail end of 2020 touted would bring millions of doses but has resulted in a paltry amount.
To have any effect against COVID-19, health authorities said at least 70 percent of the country’s population of 10.5 million people – some 7.35 million, would need to be inoculated.
But the first batch of vaccines from the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech require two shots three weeks apart and at last report earlier in January only 7,780 people had gotten both.
February and March are seen being a critical period to determine whether the pandemic will again close off what once had been normal life, people becoming complacent during the second lockdown trying to return to that.
Mitsotakis said, earlier this week, that Greece may have dealt with the pandemic better than many other countries, but he added, “We saw back in November and December that danger lurks at any moment.”
He admitted then waiting too long to bring a second lockdown, which began Nov. 7, 2020 and technically is still in effect but widely ignored and routinely violated, apparently without consequence.
He said he’s trying to balance saving lives against the economy but the wavering has seen both suffer, cases and deaths and battered businesses barely hanging on, some restaurateurs saying they would give him their keys.
The advisory panel of doctors and scientists said they are constantly reviewing changing epidemiological data to see what should be done but the floor keeps shifting under them.
. “If the warning bell rings, we will react promptly. We will not hesitate to close schools again, especially school,” said Sipsis, after the government pushed back secondary school reopenings from Feb. 1.
“If necessary, we will do it next week…The danger of an epidemiological explosion still lurks. Everything can turn upside down from day to day,” he added, the pandemic clinging and spreading still.
Sipsas said February and March will be “epidemiologically unstable months” with measures changing depending on conditions as the virus spreads more easily in the winter and cold and collides with flu season.
“These two months, we will see decisions revised every day. The (advisory) committee tracks the virus. The virus is beating the drums and we are dancing to its beat,” Sipsas said.
This means even a total lockdown, as happened during March-May 2020, is not out of the question which likely would spell the end of many restaurants, taverns and bars and cut deep into summer tourism hopes.