ATHENS – Essentially ending COVID-19 health restrictions to open the country to tourists to bring in money, and letting anti-vaxxers free to mingle with the vaccinated in public gathering places brought a surge in cases in Greece.
There had been worry that would happen but the New Democracy government turned its attention toward an economic recovery while health officials warned that if the pandemic got worse again that measures would return in autumn.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the jump wasn’t enough to put pressure again on the public health system that was on its heels for more than two years after COVID hit early in 2020 and came after the country’s death toll passed 30,000.
“We expected this increase and it makes sense given the presence of variants that are more transmissible, so restrictions are pointless,” Plevris told SKAI TV after the the National Organization for Public Health reported 9,288 new infections June 15.
That was more than double from a week earlier but the government is downplaying the severity with tourists pouring into the country from everywhere, apart from Russia whose airlines were banned under European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Plevris said that the rise in infections won’t overwhelm public hospitals as it had even though the government didn’t move to commandeer private hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) and ventilators.
He appeal to people who are vulnerable to “apply some measures of self-protection,” but didn’t say whether that meant wearing masks that aren’t required anymore or staying safe social distances which has also been lifted.
“None of the models we have been running show trends that will put pressure on the health system and would require that we take measures. Cases as cases are just one chapter. The issue is to what extent they translate into hospitalizations,” the minister said, apparently trying to spin the uptick as nothing serious.
He said that many of the new cases concern reinfections and many of those are with subvariants of the Omicron strain, which, he said, “provide no protection from getting ill, but do provide protection from getting seriously ill,” said Kathimerini.
OUT OF WORK
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis long ago moved away from a pledge to consider mandatory vaccinations if the pandemic got worse and only health care workers are required to be inoculated as the number of cases passed 3.5 million.
Health care workers who aren’t vaccinated continue to be suspended without pay and face being fired although that could change depending on the epidemiological data under constant review.
As the numer of Coronavirus cases began to soar quickly again, a member of the government’s advisory panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations on measures said there was no reason to be edgy yet.
“There is an upward trend this week, the first after a long time, but I do not think there is any cause for concern,” said Gikas Magiorkinis, a clinical virologist.. “At least 20 countries in Europe showed an upward trend last week,” he added.
But the rise came two weeks after the government suspended all health restrictions except face masks in hospitals, care homes and transport and said it wan’t necessary to show vaccine certificates to get into bars, restaurants, taverns or other gathering spots despite the health hazard potential.
A side effect of lessening the measures means that more than 3,000 people hired during the pandemic to keep Greek municipal and regional services afloat will lose their jobs by the end of June.
Those are workers hired to check vaccine QR codes, sanitize public parks and buildings and streets who will be let go, and they aren’t happy about losing their jobs all of a sudden.
David Armaos, who has been working as a street cleaner for the city of Piraeus for almost two years told China’s state-run CGTN network that “I’ll definitely take legal action,” without saying what his grounds would be.
“And in the meantime, although I have a second job, I’m already looking to replace the one I will lose – because with only one job it’s not possible to feed a family. Life has become expensive, especially now.
“My future is uncertain because we don’t know if there will be any extension. But even if there is, imagine they tell us they will extend our contracts for another five months – that’s another five months living with stress,” he said.