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Greece Struggles to Contain Runaway COVID-19 Cases, Deaths

September 30, 2020

ATHENS – With health protocols – often defied – unable to hold down the still-soaring number of COVID-19 infections and rising death toll, Greece's New Democracy government is anxious it will get even worse yet.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' administration has appealed, largely without success, to people to wear masks even in public as required, and to stay a safe social distance of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart.

But even fines of 150 euros ($175.94) for individuals who violate the measures, and up to 10,000 euros ($11,729.50,) for businesses – along with the prospect of being temporarily closed or managers and owners facing jail time – hasn't worked enough to reduce the cases.

Tourists who were allowed to enter the country beginning in July brought infections with them too, even though they had to produce tests showing they were negative, indicating they were either asymptomatic or caught it in Greece. 

Most of the new cases were in the Attica prefecture that includes the Greek capital, with another problem for the government – crowds of young party-goers in public squares after midnight, drinking and carrying on – with police told only to urge them to leave but not make them. 

The government said it's waiting to assess the impact of stricter measures without indicating why it doesn't act sooner with epidemiologists already alarmed the pandemic is getting out of control.

Mitsotakis, however, doesn't want to bring a second lockdown for fear it would have a further crushing effect on an economy faltering over a first shutdown in March of non-essential businesses lasting up to 10 weeks for many.

The National Organization for Public Health (EODY) announced 416 new cases of the coronavirus and five fatalities on Sept. 29, bringing the totals to 18,123 infections and 388 death, both soaring since August.

Some 55 were connected to known clusters of infections while 59 were detected at the country’s border entry points. A total of 240 cases were recorded in Attica, with 23 of those cases detected by mobile EODY units, said Kathimerini.

Of the 2,600 tests conducted by EODY units in Athens since last Friday, 61 produced positive results but it wasn't said if their contacts were tracked or traced as there is no country-wide mobile phone application to do so.

Talking to reporters, Gkikas Magiorkinis, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Athens said while there's no reason to go off the rails that the second wave is still peaking.

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said for now that a second general lockdown is not on the table although the government said it would close off localized hot spots.

“The issue is not to talk about new measures but for those that have already been announced to be implemented,” he said. “Things can get better but they can also get worse, and that depends on us,” he added without explaining why the government doesn't err on the side of caution.

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