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Subvariants Make COVID Rise Again in Greece, Pandemic Not Over

ATHENS – It’s not over ’til it’s over and it’s not over in Greece – or anywhere – the stubborn Coronavirus’ Omicron subvariants making cases soar again just as tourists allowed in without having to abide by health measures are flooding the country.

Cases have occasionally passed 20,000 a day after subsiding markedly earlier in the spring but now have created a sixth wave of the pandemic in the country, worsened by anti-vaxxers being allowed to enter public gathering spots such as restaurants, bars and taverns.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis long ago backed away from a pledge to consider making shots mandatory for all if the pandemic worsened – it did and he didn’t – but then cases dropped and he turned attention toward an economic recovery.

Read more: Greece Confirms 15,498 New COVID Cases on Thursday, 13 Deaths

The number of cases has varied wildly from day-to-day but serious enough to have the government’s advisory panel of doctors, scientists and epidemiological experts regularly monitoring the numbers.

“It was clear a month ago that this rise in cases was approaching,” Athena Linou, Professor of Epidemiology at the Athens University Medical School, told Kathimerini about the expected uptick.

Like other scientists, she predicted that the rise in cases will peak in mid-July before rolling back, the New Democracy government saying it would review in September whether to reimpose health restrictions again.

Masks aren’t required almost anywhere anymore, apart from public transport and medical facilities and some other areas, and social distancing has long stopped being practiced.

While anti-vaxxers had been spreading the virus, now it’s even the fully vaccinated at usually milder risk of contracting Omicron’s subvariants, but at one point half of those on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) being inoculated.

“The most contagious subvariants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, were coming to Greece, and we stopped the protection measures indoors,” said Linou, referring to the government setting aside masks to lure tourists.

She said wearing masks indoors is critical, especially on public tranport including the metro, buses, trains and trams where people are packed together like sardines in a tin and surfaces can carry the virus.

Linou said that the positivity index is at 11 percent, an indicator of extremely high transmissibility but the government has show no interest in putting health measures in place again with hordes of tourists coming.

“Neither the vaccine nor (having recovered from) the disease can completely protect us from infection, only from severe disease,” she said although some of the fully vaccinated were in critical condition in hospitals.

“As the holiday season begins, I recommend that you opt for a ferry, even if it is slower, as long as it has a deck so you can stay out as much as possible during the voyage,” she said. “Before attending a gathering or social event, take a few minutes for a self-test, even if you feel great, you won’t be doing it so much for yourself as for the common good,” she said.

The proof’s in the sewage too with cases soaring in samples taken in Thessaloniki’s wastewater by the Aristotle University’s Sewage Epidemiology Team showing such a spike that Greece’s second-largest city was now deemed high-risk.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said however that it wasn’t the easing of health measures that caused the big jump, but Omicron subvariants to blame, reflecting 90 percent of the viral load.

“The increase in the spread of the virus, as we measured it in the sewage in recent weeks and more clearly in recent days, is not negligible… we now have data that put us on alert,” Professor Nikos Papaioannou, the rector of Aristotle University who is responsible for the research project, told the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.

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