ATHENS – After an early lockdown March 23 held down the number of cases and fatalities, ignoring health protocols and opening to tourists to save the economy has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in Greece.
The National Health Authority (EODY) said there were 77 more cases on Aug. 3, bringing the total 4,737, and one more fatality, pushing the death toll to 209 after a period when it seemed the virus was winding down.
Ten of the new cases came from tourists, while 27 others were tracked in Attica and a dozen to weddings in Alexandroupoli and Thessaloniki, the government limiting those celebrations now to a maximum of 100 people with no explanation why the Coronavirus can't spread in a crowd that size.
What's more worrying to health experts whose advice to lock down worked – but with people ignoring health measures leaving the government unable to widely enforce them, is that there has been a jump in cases to 6.1 per 100,000 people from 4.2 percent, a 50 percent hike.
A fuller assessment of the danger isn't expected until mid-August, just before cruise ships that are breeding grounds for the virus will be allowed to dock in Greece, although it's unsure if any will be coming giving travelers fear.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis however so far has ruled out any prospect of a second lockdown, the first crippling an economy just beginning to recover faster from a near decade-long crisis worsened for many by austerity measures.
“We are in a phase where all European countries must remain in a heightened state of alert over the next few months, at least until a vaccine for the coronavirus is found,” Mitsotakis said, reported Kathimerini.
That came just ahead of talks in Athens with Armin Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia. “We all realize that we can’t go ahead with a second full lockdown of our economies,” he added.
But restrictions have been tightened in some regions, such as Kavala where 35 workers at a meat processing factory and some relatives came down with COVID-19 infections.
All events planned for the city’s Kosmopolis festival were canceled as have religious festivals and the government said those traveling by ferry will have to wear face masks even on open air decks.
Masks have been required in supermarkets but that was widely ignored and not enforced leading to the measure being extended to other public gathering spots but with reports people are not keeping safe social distances either.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters that the situation will be assessed three times a week during a teleconference of health experts to be chaired by Mitsotakis.
Many of the hot spots have been clubs and bars where people have clustered – leading to a ban on people standing – while wild parties on islands, some numbering in the hundreds of people have led the Greek Police (ELAS) to step up checks.
That's especially being done on the islands of Mykonos, Santorini and Paros, as well as Athens and Thessaloniki, which have seen a recent increase in infections, Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis planning to meet with regional police chiefs to talk about enforcement.
on Monday discussed the plan with the country’s regional police chiefs.
Restaurants and cafes in Greece may have to closer earlier to help prevent the spread of the virus, Deputy Development Minister Nikos Papathanasis warned, although it wasn't explained why people couldn't get infected before closing time.
Speaking to SKAI TV, Papathanasis said that there might be “regional interventions or lockdowns” if the virus continues to spread, but no general lockdown.
However, “There is a possibility of restricting the operation of businesses, for example by closing earlier,” he told the broadcaster.
“Some people have forgotten that the invisible enemy is not gone. We must remember our individual responsibility that made us an example to follow.”
The government also said foreign seasonal workers must leave the country bu Aug. 15 as Mitsotakis met with the officials engaged in trying to hold down any further resurgence if they can.