ATHENS – Greece’s health minister said Wednesday that music will be banned at all commercial venues for New Year’s celebrations as part of new restrictions announced in response to a surge in COVID-19 infections fueled by the omicron variant.
The restrictions, originally planned to take effect on Jan. 3, will start early Thursday after the daily number of infections rocketed to nearly 22,000 Tuesday, more than double the record number reported the previous day.
Wednesday also saw a new record number of infections, with health authorities announcing 28,828 new coronavirus cases. The country of around 11 million people is recording dozens of daily deaths due to COVID-19, with 72 announced Wednesday.
“Omicron is now the dominant variant in terms of new infections,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a livestreamed briefing.
Much about omicron remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness.
Included in Greece’s measures are the mandatory use of high-protection masks at supermarkets and on public transport, schedule changes and additional work-from-home orders for government employees, and strict capacity limits at sporting venues.
Entertainment venues will close at midnight starting Thursday, but they will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. for New Year’s Eve.
Greece now has more than 1.1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than 20,600 deaths.
Those numbers brought the overall total to 1,1085,885 confirmed cases with 20,557 fatalities since the pandemic began in March 2020 with no signs of stopping and 28 percent of the country’s population of 10.7 million unvaccinated.
Mitsotakis has repeatedly changed his mind about how to deal with the crisis going back-and-forth between tougher or more lenient measures as he focused on an economic recovery while the pandemic worsened, pulling back on his pledge to consider mandatory inoculations for all if so.
The Omicron Variant is less deadly than the Delta Variant it has overtaken but far more contagious and could land far more people in hospitals and ICUs, the huge majority of them unvaccinated.
The government appeared to be caught offguard by the soaring number of cases with estimates from health advisors that it will get worse and fast and cut into hopes to accelerate a slow economic recovery.
There had been signs it would become worse, especially through viral loads in wastewater that showed Omicron spinning out of control but there were delays in adding more measures to control it.
Kathimerini said that the government hoped that Omicron wouldn’t come until mid-January so that festivities could be held on New Year’s Eve as restaurateurs were anxious to bring in revenues.
“One should always adapt tactics to the spread of the pandemic,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told Mega TV, suggesting that more measures he earlier said wouldn’t be coming now would be.
“This has dragged on for two years. No decision will be painless; they all create problems and hurt some less and others some more,” Oikonomou said, adding that the booster shot program is going well and that 88 percent of adults have been vaccinated, but only 72 percent have been fully.
That’s just about the 70 percent benchmark that health officials said was needed to slow the pandemic but that was before the Omicron Variant that first appeared in South Africa began to spread around the world.
Oikonomou referred to how fast Omicron was spreading despite warnings that it would and the danger of more unvaccinated people over the age of 60 filling hospital beds.
People in that category who are especially skeptical of being vaccinated must by Jan. 16, 2022 make an appointment for their first of three shots or facing 100-euro ($113) monthly fines which for pensioners will come out of their benefits, no explanation how it would be done for those being paid salaries.
The government is looking at curtailing hours and activities in restaurants, bars and taverns, including limiting music but is allowing the unvaccinated to go into public gathering spots such as supermarkets where they can spread he virus even faster.