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Greece’s COVID-19 Pandemic Battle Held Back by Anti-Vaxxers

ATHENS – With a slow-rolling vaccination program picking up – despite masses who refuse to take the shot – the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece has seen cases stuck around 2,000 a day and the numbers of critically ill patients in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) not receding.

The New Democracy government, held back by a cumbersome European Union distribution program, has managed to get some 13 percent of the population of 10.7 million people fully vaccinated and millions more doses are coming in May and June.

With many elderly, apart from a stubborn nucleus who won't be vaccinated, having been inoculated because they were the most susceptible, the average age of new coronavirus infections dropped 39 Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said.

“The hospitals and health centers of all island areas … have been reinforced,” he said, responding to a press query about whether he was concerned that the reopening of tourism will expose islanders to more infections, the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) said.

The areas with the highest number of infections per 100,000 people include Western Greece region, Attica, Thessaly in central Greece and the South Aegean. Last week, a spike in infections was recorded in the Regions of North Aegean, Ionian Islands, Crete and Epirus.

There were 388,558 cases and 11,587 deaths as of May 19 although the vaccines are showing they are effective in beating back the pandemic although health officials said at least 70 percent of the population, or 7.49 million people, must be inoculated to be effective.

Kikilias also said more than 4,615,000 people have been vaccinated, only only 1.7 million with two required doses of those in use as Greece is going to also use the single-shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States.

Speaking at the same briefing, Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) President Yiannis Retsos said the sector is prepared to host visitors in safety to persuade more to come, their money needed to boost the economy.

But he said given the volatile nature of the Coronavirus, which has been resilient and seen variants developing during the 15-month pandemic that estimating arrivals or revenues can't be done.

The government eased back an already lenient lockdown but was said to be so alarmed by scenes of people shunning masks and gathering in public spaces, even partying there, that it warned tough measures could return if needed.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday more than a dozen Greek airports renovated by a German-led consortium could serve as “bridges” for a summer of greater freedom from the lockdown, said Reuters.

He was speaking at the opening of the refurbished airport of Thessaloniki, the final leg of a 440-million euro ($536.5 million) investment undertaken by a consortium led by German airport operator Fraport.

Concluding a project which started in 2017, it has now upgraded 14 Greek airports, including those on the popular holiday islands of Santorini, Corfu and Rhodes, the report also said.

“As we carefully walk towards the exit of the COVID-19 health crisis, these airports will become our national bridges for a freer and more efficient summer, as we continue to build a wall of immunity with our vaccine rollout,” Mitsotakis said, although the pandemic is lingering.

The expanded airport at Thessaloniki, which cost 100 million euros ($121.93 million,) will have twice as many departure gates, many more retail facilities and can accommodate about 10 million people a year. It handled 6.9 million in 2019, before the pandemic struck, also said the news agency.

“The 14 new and upgraded airports, which were delivered three months ahead of the contractual deadline, mark the beginning of a new era both for tourism and for the 14 local communities,” Fraport Greece Chief Executive officer Alexander Zinell said.

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