ATHENS – A month into a second partial lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, half-restrictions still allowing people to go out – seeing almost normal street traffic – has failed to hold down the number of cases and deaths.
But with the numbers still jumping, including a critical factor of public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) being overwhelmed with more patients needing to be put on ventilators, the New Democracy government still hopes to lift it.
On Dec. 7, seasonal stores selling Christmas and holiday goods will be allowed to open after Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis said they would be safe, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis still hopes to get businesses going before Christmas.
He had imposed the lockdown on Nov. 7, that was supposed to lift Dec. 1, but was pushed back to Dec. 7 and now to Dec. 14 or longer – as he tried to find a way to save the critical Christmas revenue period for businesses battered by a 10-week lockdown in the spring.
Already many restaurants in the capital have stayed closed during the second shutdown because they can't make it on take-out and delivery and there's worry of mass permanent closings with so much business lost this year.
The number of people on ventilators pushed past 600 – hitting a high of 622 on Dec. 1 and has been growing, and deaths have gone past 100 daily on and off with signs the virus is still spreading.
People are not allowed to leave their homes except for missions such as going to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, doctors, essential businesses, taking exercise or walking pets, but they must have permission slips downloaded from the Internet, on their cell phones or handwritten.
That has seen masses of people still going out although health protocols – not always observed – requiring wearing masks and staying safe social distances but in some cases people are wearing masks below their noses.
The total number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the epidemic is 111,537, with deaths at 2,706 as the government has hesitated whether to get tougher – fearing the economic consequences – or be more lax.
As of Dec. 7, supermarkets will also be allowed to sell holiday items which had been prohibited as unfair to seasonal stores which couldn't, but the ban on books, clothing, footwear and electronic equipment remains.
The government's scientific and advisory committee said the virus has continued to spread, especially within families, because the weather has turned cooler and the restrictions are less severe.
“In October we had a very large increase in the virus in the community. When the lockdown started, we stayed at home, with the virus, and it continued to spread within the family,” Nikos Sypsas, an infectious diseases professor at Athens University, told Kathimerini.
The latest available data in the COVID-19 Observatory Report showed that in the first two weeks of the lockdown that mobility of people moving around fell only 34.5 percent and was 23.8 percent higher than during the first lockdown that was tighter.