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Economy

COVID-19’s Delicate Balance in Greece: Saving Lives, Saving Economy

ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis finds himself with a conundrum over COVID-19: whether to bring another hard lockdown to slow the spread of the pandemic or allow businesses to open to keep a battered economy from the edge.

The New Democracy leader said he was too slow to bring a second lockdown on Nov. 7, 2020 when the Coronavirus resurged and since then has tried easing and retightening the health measures, only partially working.

At the same time he’s besieged with sometimes desperate pleas from some businesses, especially owners of restaurants, bars and taverns shut down half the previous year, worrying they will never reopen if the lockdown persists.

He is then, essentially Between Scylla and Charybdis, having to choose the lesser of two evils but with a variant: neither might work or could bring irreparable financial harm or more deaths and cases.

In a review of the plight, Kathimerini noted that adding to the dilemma has been a serious shortage of vaccinations after he late in 2020 said that millions would be coming, health officials saying 70 percent of the population must be inoculated.

That’s the benchmark needed to be reached to slow the pandemic but means some 7.35 million people would need the shots, with the major vaccines requiring two doses three weeks to three months apart.

That could cut into the summer tourism season essential for any hope of a nascent recovery, the Coronavirus cruel as well to an economy that was just beginning to accelerate a rebound from a near decade-long crisis when COVID-19 hit.

“The government is walking a tightrope as it strives to safeguard public health while at the same time securing the conditions for even rudimentary social and economic activity,” the paper’s report put it.

That uncertainty about which way to go apparently led the government’s advisory panel of doctors and scientists to – for now – pull back from recommending a hard lockdown in favor of compromise measures, which hadn’t worked previously.

High-ranking government officials not named said there has been a spike in cases in the prefecture of Attica, which includes Athens and half the country’s population, but not an explosion to warrant a near-full lockdown as in the spring of 2020.

For now, health officials have opted to keep an eye on hospital admissions, the number of cases and the capacity of public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) to cope and make sure there’s enough ventilator capacity.

The appearance of variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa is another worrying catalyst but the government is hopeful vaccinations will pick up, especially with the version from the UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca ready.

That is most effective in the 60-64 age group which will start being inoculated while those over 70 still are lining up for the version from the US company Pfizer and German partner, BioNTech.

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