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Hold Your Breath: Greece Tries to Contain COVID-19 Rise, Cases Pass 10,000

August 31, 2020

ATHENS – August has turned out to be the cruelest month for COVID-19 in Greece, the pandemic spiraling almost out of control again after an early lockdown in March held down the number of cases and fatalities, both jumping again after defiance of health protocols, wild island parties and tourists bringing infections with them.

With the last day left, cases more than doubled in 30 days, hitting 10,134, of which 5,657 came in August, or an average of 188. That jumped with 157 more on Aug. 30, including 41 from tourists, and two deaths raising the toll to 262.

There were 56 deaths in the month and 35 patients on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICU's) while 149 had been discharged after treatment as the New Democracy government's health team is scrambling to keep the cases down.

They are watching scientific indicators to get a gauge on the Coronavirus that has proved resistible even to the brutal heat of the Greek summer after some hopes it would burn out.

There were 4,477 cases from March through the end of July and after they soared fast in mid-August, the government imposed more restrictions on the wearing of masks in public places and keeping safe social distances.

“We have observed a slight flattening of the curve, with new cases steady at between 200 and 300, which may indicate that measures adopted in early August are taking effect,” Nikos Sypsas, an infectious diseases professor at the Athens School of Medicine and a member of the scientific team said.

He told Kathimerini that there would be more concern  if cases spiked exponentially. “We would be particularly concerned if we had a doubling of cases every day, an exponential growth of the pandemic. That is not the case right now,” he said.

A critical indicator is the number of intubated patients, which reached 31 in the Aug. 20-26 period, from 23.4 on average in the Aug. 5-20 period, the government more than doubling ICU unit equipment and beds during the pandemic, thanks largely to donations from the Diaspora and some philanthropists, absent the country's oligarch shipping industry which did almost nothing to help.

“As things stand now we can handle the situation. However, if the numbers continue to increase, things will get very difficult,” Matina Pagoni, President of the Athens and Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association (EINAP) told the paper.

She said public hospitals, while in relatively good shape compared to their woeful condition before the pandemic hit, after repeated cuts during a near decade-long austerity and economic crisis, must reach 1300 ICU beds.

“We have to prepare for a difficult winter. Let’s not forget that since October we also have the H1N1 flu virus, for which everyone should be vaccinated this year, but also a lot of other diseases that need to be treated in hospitals. We tend to forget this with COVID-19,” she added in an advisory.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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