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COVID-19 Overwhelming Greek Hospitals: Deaths Rise, ICU’s Fill

November 19, 2020

ATHENS – After admitting waiting too long to bring a second lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, Greece's New Democracy government is struggling to handle a second wave of the Coronavirus that has pushed hospitals to the limit.

Cases, deaths, the number of people in Intensive Care Units (ICU's) and needing ventilators keep rising, at least one hospital already full and others almost at capacity, the government still not moving to commandeer private clinics.

Another 3,209 cases, 60 deaths were reported Nov. 18, while 480 people were on ventilators although the government had used the eight-month pandemic to double the number of ICU's, with the help of the Diaspora and donations.

Fatalities hit 1,288, soaring by double digits daily after the pandemic got out of hand in October because so many people weren't wearing masks or keeping a safe social distance – and going to nightclubs allowed to stay open.

All the indicators show it will get worse before it gets better although health officials said they think it's cresting now and will start to abate by the end of November when the second lockdown is due to be lifted.

The numbers are the same across the country, with no safe havens, Thessaloniki – the second-largest city and major port – already nearly overtaken by the virus that keeps spreading despite tightened health protocols.

Despite being in an alleged lockdown, traffic remained heavy on the streets of the capital Athens although people are required to carry with them permisson on their phones or forms from the Internet or handwritten indicating they are on allowed trips such as going to supermarkets, banks, doctors and pharmacies.

While more hospitals beds are being set aside for COVID-19 patients – those with other illnesses are being moved elsewhere including private clinics to free up ICUs – the rate of occupation is rising almost as fast, said Kathimerini.

At the same time, Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said authorities plan to inoculate 2,117,440 people a month once a vaccine arrives, likely in December, although it will not be mandatory. 

The vaccinations will take place at 1,018 health centers across Greece as production was rushed at an unprecedented cases and some volunteers who took shots were infected with the Coronavirus, not protected.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was applauded for bringing a first lockdown in March that lasted 10 weeks and helped hold down the number of cases and deaths, was reluctant to do it again because of the blow to a faltering economy, many businesses not surviving the first shutdown.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the measures will stay in place as long as the pandemic remains uncontrollable and some health officials said there could be rolling shutdowns until the spring of 2021.

Reopening non-essential businesses – if possible – would be done in three stages, he said. That would see schools first, followed by retail stores and then restaurants with indoor dining, some owners saying it's already too late for them and they have closed for good.

There are signs the lockdown won't lift on Dec. 1 as first said, reports indicating that schools will reopen on Dec. 7, with retailers on Dec. 14 and restaurants on Dec. 21, likely too late to save the Christmas holiday season that provides critical revenues for store owners and the economy, set to shrink 10 percent this year.

Even when they do reopen, restaurants will have to follow rules so strict some owners said they can't make a profit, allowing only seated customers at safe social distances with fewer people and having to close at 10 or 11 p.m. – just when many Greeks like to go out.

There will be extra costs for the restaurant owners on top of bleeding money, including the likelihood of having to put plexiglass protectors between tables, the government said to be considering subsidies for heaters and stoves so there can be outside dining too.

This time though, said Petsas, the government won't repeat the mistake of allowing nightclubs and bars to open because they were mass gatherings of people drinking and mingling, Mitsotakis blaming young club-goers for spreading the virus between themselves and the population.

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