ATHENS – As anxiety grows the coronavirus could spread to Greece as tourist season approaches, the National Public Health Organization has sent teams to the western port city of Patras which has direct ferry links to Italy, where the disease has been deadly and closed whole regions.
There have been seven deaths and at least 200 cases in Italy and earlier reports said an Italian doctor who attended a conference in Greece was diagnosed with the virus when he returned, raising the worry even more.
Greek health teams will inform crews of passenger and merchant ships arriving from Italy on measures to protect themselves from the virus and officials will also try to identify people who had visited regions in Italy affected by the virus.
There haven’t been reports that Greece will bar Italian tourists as has happened with Chinese after Greece temporarily closed its visa office in that country, where the virus began and has been particularly deadly. For the same reasons, the unit will visit the port of Igoumenitsa on the western coast, another spot where hundreds of ferry passengers arrive daily from Italy’s Ancona.
Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said authorities have taken every measure to protect the country against the spread of the new coronavirus after the death toll rose in Italy, where even troops were being called out to seal off affected towns.
“We have taken all the necessary precautions to safeguard the public’s health. We are organized and structured, and this is proved by the fact that we have successfully dealt with all suspicious cases so far,” Kilkilias told reporters in Athens, following a briefing of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Earlier, however, authorities at the international airport outside Athens allowed Chinese tourists who landed to go to the popular tourist island of Santorini, before Greece closed its visa office in China.
Kikilias said he briefed Mitsotakis and key Cabinet ministers on the latest developments concerning the virus, which surged in parts of Italy promoting fears that it could spread to Greece, said Kathimerini.
He also appealed to the media to maintain a “serious” stance in its coverage of the outbreak by avoiding misinformation and fearmongering and prevent setting off a panic as has happened in parts of Italy where people have cleaned out supermarkets and were hunkering down.
“It is our duty to defend public health and this means we need to inform citizens in a serious and proper manner, through the proper channels,” he said.
Kikilias added that 13 hospitals around Greece are on standby to receive any suspicious cases and that special guidelines have been given to all hospitals, medical centers, paramedics, ambulance workers, port and airport officials, while the Health Ministry’s committee of experts on contagious diseases is also ready.