ATHENS – With the first death of the coronavirus in Greece and the number of cases spiking, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it will get worse and advised people, especially the elderly, to avoid religious services in the run-up to Easter although Greek Church officials said Holy Communion wasn’t a risk despite serving all attendants with the same spoon.
The fatality, not identified, was a 66-year-old patient at the Patra University Hospital in western Greece, who became infected with the virus while on a religious tour by bus of Israel and Egypt last month, his group riddled with and spreading the disease on return.
He was put in a zero-pressure room on March 2 and was intubated on March 6. His condition became critical March 10 and he died on March 12 after suffering multiple organ failure, the ministry was quoted by the Athens-Macedonian News Agency as saying.
Greek Health Ministry representative Sotiris Tsiodras told reporters as of that date there were 99 cases, 95 Greeks and four foreigners, with two in intensive care units while the remaining patients are stable and 68 are in isolation in their homes.
After the World Health Organization declared the virus, now called COVID-19, a pandemic, Mitsotakis went on national TV to offer reassurances all measures were being taken to contain the disease – although ferry boats from Italy, the hardest-hit European Union country had been allowed to dock in Patra, a region with the most cases.
But he said that, “The most difficult phase still lies ahead,” and for this reason “any complacency is impermissible.” He added that, “No measure can be substituted for individual responsibility.”
After his New Democracy government had shied away from responding to the decision by the Church to go ahead with Holy Communion, Mitsotakis said the elderly shouldn’t go to church because they are the most vulnerable sector.
“This is not a question of faith but a question of safeguarding people’s health,” he said, adding that religious duties should be carried out “as much as possible from home, to limit large gatherings.”
The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece said it will close Sunday schools and youth clubs as well as Church-run nurseries for two weeks – from March 11 to 29 – but said churches will remain open and offer services despite Mitsotakis’ warning.
Mitsotakis described the coronavirus as an “unprecedented public health crisis” which still hasn’t hit Greece as hard as other countries. “But we should have no illusions: The hardest days are still ahead of us. At this time, any complacency is unacceptable,” he said.
The government said it would manage the epidemic by implementing measures that will help “stagger” any serious cases over time so that patients are able to receive the care they need, he added but so far hasn’t implemented more sweeping plans to close down public gathering places although schools were shut down for two weeks.
He also announced that the public sector would adopt flexible working hours, video conferencing and working from home and that working parents would get 15 days leave as day care centers and nurseries closed but that only part of their lost pay would be covered.
With the virus already cutting into a slow recovery from a near decade-long economic crisis, Mitsotakis admitted that it would “take a hit that was impossible to predict,” and announced measures to lessen the fallout, suspending the Value Added Tax (VAT) and social security contributions for businesses taking losses.