ATHENS – A mixed bag of health restrictions – but no lockdown – is the New Democracy government’s plan to keep a slow-rolling economic recovery going and help retailers during the Christmas period despite the resurging COVID-19 pandemic.
New measures went into effect on Nov. 22, a mish-mash of schemes that generally prevent the unvaccinated from going into most indoor public gathering spots apart from pharmacies, supermarkets and public transportation.
The government hopes that will persuade more skeptics to get their shots to slow the pandemic as the vaccination campaign has stalled at about 62 percent of the country’s population of 10.7 million, short of the 70 percent that health officials said is needed to be effective.
The unvaccinated are now locked out of public venues including cinemas, theaters, museums and gyms and there will be staggered working times to try to prevent clogging of people on buses, trains, trams and the metro.
Retail stores will open at 10 a.m. instead of an hour earlier and police will be checking to make sure vaccination certificates or proof of recovery documents are presented before people enter indoor establishments.
Restaurant owners are already upset and complaining about a big fall-off in business and the government has been reluctant to impose tougher restrictions so that Christmas shopping won’t take a hit.
Despite mixed messages about whether there might be a lockdown after Austria moved to a general closing and said vaccinations would mandatory in 2022 – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis backed off his pledge to consider required shots – Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the government won’t go any further.
He told the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA) that the measures in place are designed to help the national health system cope as people on ventilators in public hospitals are filling Intensive Care Units (ICUs.O
“Over 85 percent of those who are admitted to an ICU or lose their lives are unvaccinated. ICU beds have more than doubled and 12,000 staff are available,” he added.
Still, that was a grim indicator that even the fully vaccinated remain susceptible as the efficacy of shots wear off and now booster shots are being given to get them through the winter.
The government also conscripted public doctors after an appeal was unanswered and added some 80 physicians to help the health system deal with rising cases that have limited beds for other illnesses.
He said he was satisfied that vaccinations have begun to pick up some as the fourth wave has apparently frightened enough skeptics to be inoculated although a hard-core element of anti-vaxxers still remains.