ATHENS – Greece’s worsening COVID-19 pandemic is the fault of anti-vaxxers, the New Democracy government said, but won’t force them to be inoculated even as they are infecting the fully vaccinated now.
State Minister Akis Skertsos told an audience at the Athens Health Summit organized by the newspaper Kathimerini that the country is in the midst of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” but didn’t explain why shots aren’t mandatory.
He said more than 90 percent of those in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) aren’t vaccinated, overwhelming the national health system to the point that all non-emergency surgeries are being stopped.
But as many as 40 percent of new infections are the vaccinated as the efficacy of shots given six months or longer ago are wearing off and the government is trying to get people to take booster shots at the same time hoping to convince anti-vaxxers to get their first shots.
He said that while the number of deaths passed 17,517 and is growing by dozens a day that Greece still ranks 16th among the 27 countries in the European Union in the number of COVID-related deaths per million inhabitants although the major rival SYRIZA said it has spun out of control.
The Leftists have blamed Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has walked away from a pledge to consider making shots mandatory for all – only health care workers so far must be inoculated – and as he has turned toward focusing on the economy.
While apparently trying to play down the crisis, Skertsos also blamed bureaucracy, pandemic fatigue and lack of public trust in government institutions as the reason why the virus keeps spreading.
But then he said that official data shows Greece performing better than the EU average which he said “is a significant accomplishment,” not counting those in hospitals, ICUs and graveyards.
Some members of Mitsotakis’ advisory panel of doctors and scientists reportedly have argued for tougher measures beyond those limiting where the unvaccinated can go – they’re allowed to mix in supermarkets.
Skertsos turned to data to try to show the government is doing a good job, pointing out that authorities rely on World Health Organization (WHO) metrics to estimate mortality from the virus.
He said the death toll is rising because of anti-vaxxers, some of whom don’t think the shots are safe or effective or that they are part of an international conspiracy including pharmaceutical companies to alter their DNA or control their minds.
“It is extremely sad. (Many deaths) could have been avoided. Around one hundred people die on a daily basis,” he said, adding that Greece has the second oldest population in the EU bloc, the elderly among those most resistant to shots.
But he didn’t say if shots would at any point become mandatory as Mitsotakis said earlier he would consider and as Austria plans to do early in 2022 when the pandemic will hit the two-year mark.
He said the National Health System that’s on the verge of buckling – private clinics aren’t being recruited – has been beefed up and that the number of ICU beds doubled from 557 to almost 1,300 and 12,000 healthcare workers were hired.
Those were for permanent and short-term contracts and partially replaced some 6 percent of the workforce in healthcare who were suspended for refusing to be vaccinated although other sectors – notably the police – are exempt from shots.