ATHENS – After admitting he waited too long to bring a second national lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is facing a dilemma: when to lift it to salvage the economy or keep it in place to save lives.
He had been applauded for bringing an early 10-week lockdown that began March 23 and held down the number of cases and deaths but, wanting to save an economy already battered by the temporary closing of non-essential businesses waited to do it again until Nov. 7 as a second wave spread.
That was due to be lifted Dec. 1 but has been extended until at least Dec. 7, likely longer if the epidemiological data doesn't improve, with signs the number of cases is slowing but not deaths and with public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU's) overwhelmed with critical cases and patients on ventilators.
An advisory committee of scientists and doctors didn't direct him fast enough for the second lockdown, Mitsotakis hinted without blaming them directly and as he faces criticism from rival parties over his handling of the pandemic.
Mitsotakis told advisors, said Kathimerini, that "his priority is the protection of human life," with government and health authorities saying a too early lifting would lead to a third lockdown in January and a worsening of the pandemic.
The panel's findings, said the paper, showed that while a critical factor – the RT or reproduction rate showing how fast COVID-19 spreads – has started to lessen that it hasn't fallen fast enough to warrant a quick lifting of the lockdown.
Given the slowing pace, a substantial reduction in ICU and hospital admissions is expected as of the week of Dec. 7 but not immediately, indicating a longer lockdown that could doom the critical Christmas period for teetering businesses.
The thinking for now is said to be leaning toward a phased lifting of the lockdown starting with areas of the country less affected and those hardest hit, which include Athens and Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city and major port that became a hot spot, brought largely by the young ignoring health protocols and going to clubs allowed open before the shutdown.
The government is hopeful that the first vaccines will arrive before the end of the year so that the pandemic could hopefully be slowed significantly or brought to an end by spring 2021 although the paper said surveys found that 30 percent of people don't believe it's safe and won't take it which could affect any potential recovery.