ATHENS – As Greece prepares to end a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the New Democracy government won’t let up on plans to prepare for a likely return of the disease in the autumn.
The country’s battered health care system, which suffered repeated budget cuts during a nearly decade-long austerity and economic crisis, with a slow recovery being accelerated before COVID-19 hit, will be bolstered, said Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias.
He told the news site Politico in an interview that, “It will be a tiring summer for us, full of work, but this will be a legacy for the country,” referring to trying to help beleaguered hospitals, doctors, nurses and health care workers get the resources they need.
“Countries that protected their citizens and didn’t have a dramatic impact in the first wave may face more difficulties in the second,” he said, with Greece among the countries best dealing with the virus after imposing an early shutdown of non-essential businesses.
But repeated budget cuts had put parts of the health system in dire straits and when the virus hit there were 560 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in a country with a population of some 11 million people.
That’s been raised to more than 900, thanks largely to help from benefactors and the Diaspora and he said the plan is to bring it to 1,200 by the autumn and hire another 4,200 doctors, nurses and paramedics to help restore a system decimated by the exodus of thousands of them to other countries during the crisis, many planning to never return.
“We all know that after 10 years of crisis, the national health system is wounded. The importance of a public health system, which has been prioritized years ago in other advanced countries, was lagging in our country,” he said.
“There must be emergency infrastructure in the country, and part of its national security should also be its health security,” he said, although a former New Democracy-led coalition made deep budget cuts.
Kikilias said that Greece has also struggled to compete with wealthier countries in the scramble for medical supplies, accusing some EU countries of “incredible aggressiveness.”
He also criticized the European Unionfor its slow response to the pandemic, saying that “the word ‘solidarity’ has been heard many times, but it hasn’t been able to transform into a common European policy.”