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Omicron Rising, Greek Health Officials Fear New COVID Outbreak

December 17, 2021

ATHENS – The more contagous but milder Omicron Variant is raising worries about a further outbreak of COVID-19 in Greece, especially with the onset of winter and holiday season when people gather in homes and restaurants.

There were 17 cases of the variant reported on Dec. 16 with health officials sounding a warning it’s easier spread, especially by rabid anti-vaxxers who refuse to be inoculated and aren’t being compelled by the New Democracy government.

The uncertainty among scientists and mixed messages over the variant and changing recommendations on vaccines and boosters is adding to the confusion over how to deal with the pandemic.

There had been record numbers of cases, hospitalizations, people in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and deaths which drove more of the reluctant to be vaccinated.

But the numbers still haven’t reached the 70 percent mark of the country’s population of 10.7 million deemed the benchmark to beat back the unstoppable health crisis.

That has put more pressure on the National Health System with ICUs overflowing and private clinics not being recruited, and as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis backed away from a pledge to consider making shots mandatory.

The government has put restrictions on where the unvaccinated can go but there’s been few reports over how, or whether it is being enforced with the Greek Church saying it can’t, and won’t check attendees for infections.

As it’s reaching out to tourists to come year round, including the winter, the government said visitors will have to show a negative molecular test to be admitted although it wasn’t said it that includes those fully vaccinated.

“The measures are being taken to save time, so that we have more data on the clinical characteristics of the virus and the protection provided by the treatments we have, as well as to vaccinate the population,” said infectious disease specialist Charalambos Gogos in comments to Kathimerini.

“This is a new variant and we know its biological characteristics, namely what the virus is, its mutations and where they are located. But we do not know the clinical characteristics of the virus,” he added.

OMICRON vs. DELTA

The information, he stressed, is coming slowly, mainly from South Africa, where it has completely replaced the Delta variant, but also from the United Kingdom, where there has been a massive rise in Omicron cases.

“It seems to be a strain that has great penetration and is very contagious. We still have a gap in our knowledge as to whether it can bypass immunity,” Gogos explained.

He told the paper that the early indications suggest that it can in some instance bypasses immunity and pose a risk even to those fully vaccinated, including with a third booster shot.

Soaring infections in Britain driven in part by the omicron variant of the Coronavirus have rattled Europe, prompting new restrictions on the Continent and fueling a familiar dread on both sides of the Atlantic about entering a new phase of the pandemic just in time for the holidays.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, but officials increasingly warn it appears more transmissible than the Delta variant, which has already put pressure on hospitals worldwide.

With so many questions unanswered, uncertainty reigned over how quickly and how severely to crack down on Christmas travel and year-end parties although the Greek government hasn’t moved to do so.

The United Kingdom recorded its highest number of confirmed new  infections since the pandemic began, and France announced  that it would tighten entry rules for those coming from Britain.

In England, the chief medical officer urged people to limit who they see over the holidays as there are worries in Greece too that gatherings that won’t be prohibited will further spread the disease.

In the UK, pubs and restaurants said many people were heeding that advice by canceling Christmas parties, though there has been much debate about what’s OK to do. In the US, the White House insisted there was no need for a lockdown, despite signs that omicron was gaining ground there.

Globally, more than 75 countries have reported confirmed cases of the new variant. In Britain, where omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, Omicron was expected to soon replace Delta as the dominant strain, the booster program being accelerated in response.

Authorities in the 27-nation European Union said Omicron will be the dominant variant in the bloc by mid-January with data showing it may be milder but that vaccines are less effective at dealing with it.

 

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

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