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Society

Greece’s COVID-19 Omicron Dilemma: Health or Economy?

December 24, 2021

ATHENS –  Masks on? Masks off? Prime Minister Kyriakis Mitsotakis, who has gone back-and-forth between more or fewer restrictions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and keep the economy going decided on both.

Trying to balance saving lives and jobs and revenues at the same time, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government directed a mix of leniency and toughness during and after the holidays to allow holiday shopping and New Year’s Eve festivities, but with masks required indoors and out.

That was driven by worry from health analysts, said Kathimerini, that the Omicron Variant that is far more contagious but less dangerous will wash over the country in January and put stress on the staggered health system.

The number of daily COVID cases in January could exceed 10,000, more than double the constant numbers now, a key government health advisor told SKAI TV, with Omicron the catalyst.

Infectious disease expert Gkikas Magiorkinis said that more restrictions will be inevitable especially with worry that Christmas shopping, mass gatherings and New Year’s Eve celebrations likely driving a surge.

He said the scientific committee advising the government on the handling of the pandemic will meet on Dec. 27 to discuss possible new measures as 28 percent of the country is still unvaccinated and public hospitals are under pressure.

After announcing that rapid tests would be required, even for the vaccinated, to get into restaurants and clubs, the government moved toward self-tests that have no way of verifying the identity of those presenting them.

Mitsotakis also has pulled back from a promise to consider mandatory vaccinations although rabid anti-vaxxers had kept spreading the Coronavirus and extending the pandemic.

Those over 60 must be vaccinated and make an appointment for their first shot by Jan. 16, 2022 or face a 100-euro ($113.31) monthly fine – but police whose ranks are full of anti-vaxxers are exempt.

Now, said the paper, the government is considering extending mandatory shots to those over 50 in the new year to slow the pandemic but not a lockdown or other more severe restrictions that would hurt the economy.

JUST STAGGERING

Non-essential businesses suffered a brutal period since March, 2020, closed for six months during the period and restaurateurs have been especially vocal about rules keeping out the unvaccinated, wanting to let them in.

New restrictions added include a requirement that a KN95 or double mask for going into supermarkets – which don’t always check – or on public transportation, where inspectors are few and far between.

All city-sponsored events and festivals during the holidays were canceled but Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis came under criticism for paying singer Sakis Rouvas 211,000 euros ($239,120) to sing for 17 minutes to bring in the New Year.

Tourists whom Greece have been beckoning to come during the winter wil have to show a mandatory molecular or rapid test to be admitted and repeat them on the second and fourth day after their arrival.

After Jan. 3 the government will clamp down even further but not for now so as not to interfere with the Christmas shopping season. The next restrictions, the paper said, will be on entertainment, sports and for more working from home, and perhaps staggered store hour openings.

Mitsotakis said there’s no way that schools won’t reopen after the holidays as there haven’t been as many infections as feared and that students not in school would otherwise gather at cafes and public squares.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said that another general lockdown isn’t being considered unles the conditions change, while the government said it’s advisory panel of doctors and scientiss would be reviewing epidemiological data carefully.

Most of the hope is in the vaccination program that is growing after a record number of cases, hospitalizations, people on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and deaths frightened more people into getting them.

Also, more than 5 million people, nearly half the country’s population will through late January have received a third booster shot of the vaccines and the number of fully vaccinated was said to have hit 72 percent, above the 70 percent that health officials said was needed to slow the pandemic.

The number of anti-vaxxers has fallen 12 percent since July, recent surveys showed and 43 percent of people want even stronger measures to try to end the nightmare of the COVID pandemic.

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