ATHENS – Greek private doctors who wouldn’t volunteer to help overwhelmed public hospitals in the desperate battle with COVID-19 were drafted into action, with police delivering notices to them to report for duty.
That came after only 61 out of a pool of some 3,000 answered the call from a frustrated Health Minister, Vassilis Kikilias – an orthopedist – who finally delivered on a vow to recruit them after most refused to join in.
It happened, he said, because public hospitals – many private hospitals are not being used – were inundated with critical care patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs), some 672 by March 22, and the death toll was jumping.
Kikilias said he couldn’t understand how doctors who took the Hippocratic Oath weren’t willing to aid although some had said that would leave them unable to tend to their private case load.
Police started delivering draft cards to private sector doctors in the wider Athens region, to 206 doctors registered with the National Organization for the state-run health insurer EOPYY who are under the age of 60.
These doctors include physicians, pulmonologists and general practitioners: 78 are in Athens, 36 in Piraeus, 30 in southeast Attica, 36 in northeast Attica and 26 in west Attica, said Kathimerini.
Kikilias said that despite repeated appeals for private doctors to volunteer to help in the public sector so few agreed that he was ordering specialists in pathology, pneumonology and general medicine to help.
He had earlier given them 48 hours to respond but when they didn’t he acted, and New Democracy government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said there was no choice but to make them.
“It was the last measure, if you will, in the context of the emergency plan prepared by the Health Ministry, and it was decided that it was now necessary to mobilize private doctors as part of this great struggle, this national effort, after all the opportunities for voluntary participation were exhausted,” she said.
The requisition order is for one month during a third wave and third lockdown that has gone back and forth between being lenient and tough, some restrictions lifted even in the face of the growing menace, with hairdressers and nair salons allowed to open.
Non-essential businesses have been closed for 4 ½ months, since Nov. 7, 2020 but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he’s moving toward reopening the economy as thousands of businesses said they won’t survive otherwise.
About 500 people are hospitalized each day across the country with COVID-19, health authorities say, with 200 of them being in the wider Athens region, which has half the country’s population of 10.7 million people.
Greece on March 22 reported 1,707 Coronavirus infections and 69 more deaths, bringing the total confirmed infections in the country to just under 240,000 and the death toll to 7,531.
Also allowed to reopen as the government plans to welcome tourists May 15 from many countries were open-air archaeological sites while non-commercial fishing is still banned, it was approved for those in coastal areas as access to the sea is allowed only on foot or bicycle.
Authorities said a slow-rolling vaccination campaign has administered close to 1.5 million doses, but with two required and only one million have gotten at least one shot.
Health officials said at least 7.49 million must get both shots to slow the pandemic that has been going on for more than a year and keeps on, with lockdown fatigue leading many to defy health protocols, making matters worse.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)