ATHENS – A sudden jump from nine to 31 cases of the coronavirus has Greek officials jumpy the numbers could soar with the western region of Amaliada in Phase 2 of the Health Ministry’s health risk containment strategy.
That means that official measures will now focus on containing the virus from spreading in the country, said Kathimerini, with the New Democracy government already having put in place a contingency plan that could shut down public gatherings.
There are also worries the fear of the disease, which has proved deadly in northern Italy and closed major tourism destinations there, could keep visitors from coming to Greece this spring and summer, undercutting a slow recovery from a decade-long economic crisis.
The number of cases jumped overnight when 21 travelers who had returned from a pilgrimage to religious sites in Israel and Egypt tested positive, health authorities trying to trace their contacts to test another 400 and expecting another rise.
“The coming weeks will see a significant increase in cases in Greece,” Sotiris Tsiodras, the Athens University professor in charge of the expert committee advising the government on its response to the virus told the paper.
Nine of the new patients were being treated in a hospital in the Patra suburb of Rio, with three of them showing serious symptoms, Tsiodras told journalists. The rest remained confined at home.
Patra, the country’s third-largest city, is a daily destination for ferries from Italy and health teams have been dispatched to advise travelers to take precautions but Greece has not barred entries there or another port destination from Italy at Igoumenitsa.
Eleven doctors and nurses at the hospital are also reportedly being treated as well as the staff at another in Amaliada, which had initially treated a 66-year-old without taking any protective measures, since he was not considered a “suspicious” case.
Officials a “significant increase” in the number of confirmed cases in the coming weeks and urged citizens to “adhere religiously” to the preventive measures, especially frequent hand washing and to cover coughs.
AN ECONOMIC JOLT
Α 48-hour suspension was announced by the University of Crete in Rethymno because one of the students took part in the group trip to Egypt and Israel.
Despite worries that the virus could show later in people not displaying symptoms, Greek officials let a cruise ship where a passenger who had disembarked was found to have the disease continue from Piraeus to Corfu even though many passengers had to be called back from an excursion to the Acropolis where they were on contact with hordes of tourists.
Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said the virus could bring a big hit to the economy that was slowly recovering, and could undercut New Democracy plans to lure foreign investors to help spur a faster rebound.
He said the effects were “bigger and more numerous than initially anticipated” after the government had downplayed worries. Fear is keeping people from going to public gathering spots such as cinemas and theaters which could be closed if the virus spreads.
The government said it would consider suspending taxes for enterprises that had to close under containment measures, which could also reduce revenues to the state as plans were being made for tax cuts to extend to the middle class and retroactive pension payments.
Authorities have already carried out an initial assessment of the impact of the virus on tourism and shipping – two critical sectors for Greece, Staikouras told the paper as he called for “centralized European policies to tackle the problem,” without offering any.