COVID-19 Hits Record Numbers in Greece, Public Hospitals Overwhelmed

ATHENS – A day after the government’s spokeswoman said Greece’s public health sector could cope with rising cases of COVID-19, the numbers hit a record high across the country, 3,465, and 630 people on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU’s.)

That led Health Minister Vassilis Kikilas to make yet another appeal to private hospitals and private doctors to help as most refused, and said the situation is so serious unless they volunteer within two days he would ask for them to be forced to help.

He called on pathologists, general practitioners, lung specialists and anesthesiologists in the private sector to join in but only 45 did, far short of the 200 he said is needed, as the Athens Medical Association said the pool has 3,000 specialists in private practice.

Two private hospitals were enlisted earlier to treat COVID-19 patients in Athens, where half of the country’s 11 million population lives, and Kikilias said that another would be repurposed to take more, said Reuters.

Moving toward involving private facilities and doctors came more than a year into the pandemic although Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier had vowed to use them but didn’t.

He responded in the face of withering criticism from the major opposition SYRIZA he was slow to pull the trigger to involve private hospitals reserved for the rich and people with private health insurance, and recruit private doctors.

Compounding the dilemma for him as he tries to balance saving lives and an economy brought down by three lockdowns – the third now more than four months long – is that public hospitals are focusing on COVID-19, with non-critical patients filling beds, limiting care for others.

Even emergency surgeries are being postponed because there isn’t enough staff at the public hospitals, said Kathimerini, and the government is going to transfer 550 patients, including 100 with COVID-19, to private clinics which have responded to the call, said Kathimerini.

Despite all that, Nikos Papaefthymiou, head of EKAV, the national emergency medical assistance service, said that, “The situation is difficult, but, so far, manageable,” belying the numbers indicating it isn’t.

The government, which relies on an advisory panel of doctors and scientists, said it expected the soaring numbers as tighter health restrictions during a previously lenient third lockdown haven’t had time to show results yet.

An analysis of human waste, an indicator of future cases, showed the viral load is heavier than expected and that the situation is worse than being presented, especially in Attica, the country’s biggest prefecture, which includes Athens.

The viral load had stabilized from mid-February to March 7, analysts said as the number of cases in Greece hit 227,247 with 7,252 deaths and no end in sight to the pandemic as the government wants to woo tourists.


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