ATHENS – After some health experts had already said a three-week lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 wasn't long enough, Greece's New Democracy government is said to expect to extend it past the end of November.
Restrictions had been set to lift the next day, Dec. 1, in a hope to get the staggering economy going long enough to save the Christmas season for families as well as businesses who rely on the seasonal income.
“December 1 no longer looks like a realistic target,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told state broadcaster ERT, as the second week of tightened health protocols was set to end, with signs they were being widely flouted.
Traffic remains near normal in the Greek capital although people aren't supposed to be out except for permissible missions such as going to supermarkets, pharmacies, exercise, and doctors, and carry with them a government OK on their cell phones or forms from the Internet or handwritten.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis admitted he waited too long to bring a second shutdown in hopes of saving the economy but the delay has seen cases and deaths soar and hospitals overflowing with patients, almost 500 critical.
Trying to spin the growing crisis to show the government wasn't to blame, Petsas said that the three-week lockdown wasn't a three-week lockdown but a kind of guideline for how long non-essential businesses should be closed.
“We never spoke of a specific timeline, but of a gradual return in phases to some form of normalcy within December. Unfortunately, the first week of the lockdown was somewhat relaxed,” he said.
That was in reference to people going about their business despite the doubling of fines to 300 euros ($355.75) for violating the protocols but there weren't reports of how many had been issued or if police were just giving warnings.
“We will see how we will design the gradual easing of measures over the course of next week… though at this stage the battle is about containing the coronavirus,” Petsas said without adding why violators weren't reined in.
“The situation is very alarming. We expected a reduction last week, yet infections persist,” Athens University microbiology professor Alkiviadis Vatopoulos, who sits on the committee advising the Greek government on its handling of the pandemic, told SKAI TV.
That came as Greek health authorities reported 3,227 cases on Nov. 19 and 3,209 the day before that showing that the second lockdown isn't working although he didn't say it's because people aren't following the rules.
“One of the characteristics of the epidemic, dating back to August, is that it is spread out across Greece. I think we need to become stricter. The lockdown needs to become stricter, as in China,” said Vatopoulos, arguing that current restrictions – which include a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and an authorization system restricting public movement – won't work.
“In Wuhan, people were only allowed to leave their house once a week to go shopping at the supermarket. This is what we need to do in Greece: shut down businesses and operate as though every day is a Sunday. A Wuhan-style lockdown for two weeks could ease the situation and stop the spread of the virus,” the expert said.
“If we go on as we are, we will mourn victims who had no reason to die, in the sense that they will not be able to get hospital treatment,” Vatopoulos warned, pointing to concerns about the public health system’s ability to cope with rising admissions.
Public transportation systems are still operating although it's impossible to keep a safe social distance in crowded buses, subways, trams and trains or to check to see if everyone is wearing a mask, the vehicles breeding grounds for the Coronavirus still raging.