ATHENS – In the first weekday of a new lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, the streets of Greece's capital had almost as much traffic as a normal day even as the government said the coming 10 days would be critical.
That's because there's worry that the public hospitals would be able to handle fast-rising cases that have seen more people needing to be put into ventilators and threatening to overwhelm Intensive Care Units (ICUs.)
That's despite the New Democracy government adding more ICUs during the eight-month pandemic, with the help of the Diaspora and philanthropists absent shipping oligarchs who have largely not done anything to help.
The second quasi-lockdown requires people who want to be out of their homes to have permission in the form of a text message from the government, a downloaded or handwritten document giving the reason why.
But Greek TV on Nov. 9 showed streets full of cars and commentators curious as to why there was so much traffic on what was supposed to be a lockdown, although restaurants, bars, taverns and non-essential businesses were closed.
As Greece seeks to preempt a full-blown emergency by going into a second lockdown, the next 10 days are seen as a critical litmus test of the country’s National Health System (ESY).
The lockdown that began Nov. 7 is due to end Dec. 1 unless it doesn't work and could be extended, further jeopardizing any hopes of a Christmas holiday shopping season crucial for the economy.
But if it's lifted then schools will reopen first – kindergartens are still operating – then retail shops followed by restaurants, bars and cafes, although the effect of the second shutdown could see many close for good.
“As in first phase, when we acted fast and before other countries, we must do the same today. We must take action now. If we wait to act a week or two, we will get to the point where other countries are,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reportedly told associates before his lockdown decision, said Kathimerini.
“We must take measures before the pressure on the health system becomes unbearable,” he said although he earlier the system was able to manage before his scientific and advisory committee said the strain was too much.
Despite that worry the government still hasn't moved, as it said it would if needed, to commandeer private hospitals and clinics used by the rich and those who can avoid overcrowded and nearly overwhelmed public hospitals.
Government estimates, the paper said, are that the health system can bear the overload for now unless the more serious cases requiring intubation and ICU's spike out of control.
It's also largely dependent on whether people obey the lockdown, which also requires that while out they wear masks and keep a safe social distance of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart from each other, often not possible in places such as supermarkets.
There's also hope there will soon be a vaccine although that's been dashed so far and there's no indication that one will be approved, and as the Coronavirus is now clashing with the flu season.
The head of the ICU Coordination and Development Committee, Anastasia Kotanidou, who is President of the Society of Intensive Care and an Athens University Medical School professor told the newspaper the system will hold.
“We are prepared for such situations. We are tired, but we will continue to provide our services to the best of our ability,” she said.
“I hope that in 10 days we will start to see a drop in hospital and ICU admissions. Until then, the system will endure,” even though in West Macedonia all the ICU beds were full and the numbers rising in other regions.
Health Ministry sources not identified told the paper there are plans to utilize military and private hospitals, and open new intensive care beds without specifying where.
Ventilators and monitors were sent to northern Greece to activate units in hospitals that were closed and there are plans for special wards such as those reserved for heart surgery patients and operating theaters to be made ICU's.