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Greece Turns to Testing to Stave Off COVID-19 Third Wave

December 20, 2020

ATHENS – Fearful that COVID-19 can't be stopped – a lenient second lockdown didn't work and vaccines haven't arrived yet – Greece's strategy will now use mass random national testing, for which many had to pay for at private facilities.

While the coming vaccine will be at no cost, the New Democracy government hadn't offered free tests that could have detected where the Coronavirus was spreading and there is no universal cell phone track-and-trace scheme either.

A second wave tore through the country after Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wanting to save an economy battered by a 10-week lockdown in the spring, admitted he waited too long to bring another closing of non-essential businesses.

That began – too late – Nov. 7 and was due to expire on Dec. 7 but was extended through the holidays until at least Jan. 7, 2021 because the health protocols have been lax and ignored or defied by many.

The testing will begin Dec. 28 with no explanation why it wasn't implemented in February or March when the pandemic began engulfing the country, Mitsotakis then applauded for the lockdown that saved lives and held down cases.

Gkikas Magiorkinis, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Athens University and member of the government’s advisory panel of doctors and scientists, presented the testing.gov.gr platform.

That is the method by which citizens can apply for a rapid test and will be required to fill in details, while the application will be registered with a verification code that will be sent to their mobile phone.

Those that are selected randomly will be informed by SMS about the time and location where they will be tested. The first group will be notified on Dec. 26, and the appointments will begin two days later, during the lockdown when people are supposed to confine their movements, which hasn't happened.

Magiorkinis said there will be 386 testing points around the country, which will be able to perform 12,000 tests per day. “If you help us, we will be able to prevent the third pandemic wave together,” he said.

What wasn't said is that while testing can show who has the virus that those who show negative could contract it unless tested repeatedly and that people can be asymptomatic but carry the infection.

A harder lockdown than the current softer lockdown was put in place in the northern Greece area of Kozani for a week because of soaring cases there and similar measures could be used elsewhere if there are spikes.

There are stricter measures in effect in Western Attica outside the capital where a curfew starts at 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. except for people going to work, which is most people who will still be moving around and in contact with other.

Retail stores and outdoor markets are closed there and church services have been suspended except for funerals, which are limited to 10 close relatives.

Health authorities urged people to obey health measures such as wearing masks and staying safe social distances but while many are – it's impossible in places like mass transport – there are signs many are not.

“We are very worried. Because we know very well that if our recommendations for reducing interactions and overcrowding are not followed, hospitals and ICUs will fill up again in the coming weeks," said Vana Papaevangelou, a member of the panel, reported Kathimerini.

While hospital admissions have lessened, the numbers of people in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and on ventilators was still nearly overwhelming and adding to cause for alarm.

There's also concern that as people move about during the holidays and have family dinners and other gatherings that are supposed to be limited to nine people – with no word how that could be enforced in someone's living room – that a lag period will show the virus soar again in mid-January.

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