ATHENS – Greece's second lockdown beginning Nov. 7 is aimed as much at keeping hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU's) and ventilator capacity from being overwhelmed as at slowing the spread of COVID-19, officials said.
Although the number of ICU beds and ventilators was more than doubled during the seven-month pandemic, with the help of the Diaspora and a few philanthropists, some units were nearing 100 percent occupancy.
That came after a sudden surge in a second wave of the Coronavirus although the warning signs were there that it was coming, the New Democracy government reluctant to order another shutdown to keep a faltering economy from taking another shock.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he acted before infection rates reached the levels seen in many neighboring countries because, after years of financial crises that have damaged its health system, it couldn't afford to wait as long to impose restrictions as others had.
“We must stop this wave,” Mitsotakis said. “I chose once again to take drastic measures sooner rather than later.”
Before the outbreak, Greece had one of the lowest rates of intensive-care beds per capita in Europe. It has since doubled the number to 1,013. But, of the 348 beds dedicated to coronavirus cases, only 128 remain unoccupied.
It's unlikely that number would've been enough to cope with what Mitsotakis said could be 1,000 new hospital admissions over the next 10 days, of which about 150 would likely have required ICU treatment.
There was no explanation why the government, applauded for a first lockdown in March that lasted up to 10 weeks for non-essential businesses and held down the number of cases and deaths, hadn't added even more ICU beds and ventilators.
Facing provocations from Turkey, the government is going on a spending binge to procure new arms, including fighter jets and frigates from France and beefing up its arsenal.
Mitsotakis explained that he acted relatively earlier than other countries because he could not take the risk of waiting to see whether the effects of measures taken recently would work.
“It could be the case that the measures would have worked, but if they didn’t, then in 15 days the pressure that would have been exerted on the health system would be unbearable,” he said. “That is something that, I will say it again, I can in no way allow.”
The lockdown comes just ahead of the crucial Christmas shopping season, and Mitsotakis announced additional measures to buoy the economy.
He said workers suspended from their jobs will receive an 800-euro ($950) stipend — 300 euros ($355.66) more than what the government doled out in the spring. Mitsotakis also announced an extension of unemployment benefits.
Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras outlined other measures, with a total cost of 3.3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) that include extending payment deadlines for taxes and loans. Staikouras said measures taken to tackle the pandemic so far in Greece amount to more than 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)
An additional 300 doctors are being assigned to ICUs. Meanwhile, there is a plan to enlist the help of private clinics if serious infections escalate with the government earlier saying it would commandeer them if needed.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)