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Surging COVID-19 Viral Load in Emptied Athens Brings Alarm

ATHENS – Worry is rising among the New Democracy government's advisory panel of doctors and scientists over another COVID-19 surge as an analysis of human waste in the Attica prefecture is showing a high viral load even though many people have left the capital for summer holidays and visiting their villages.

Professor of analytical chemistry at Athens University Nikos Thomaidis said while the levels in wastewater have stabilized they are still too high given how many people aren't in Athens or surrounding areas.

Some two million people were estimated to have left for other parts of Greece, more than half the population of the prefecture and almost 20 percent of that of the whole country.

There's also fear when the vacationers return that they will bring more cases with them although the government still hasn't moved to make vaccinations mandatory – apart from health care workers – even as the pandemic spreads.

“We expect an increase in the viral load with the return of vacationers, which will be reflected in an increase in cases of coronavirus. The viral load in Attica remains high and will increase,” he stressed, reported Kathimerini.

There's alarm too over the numbers reaching down in younger ranks, even as tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas revealed he's an anti-vaxxer and government officials said they're anxious his words could embolden those who won't be inoculated.

The number of those in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) is also rising and deaths, too, but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would wait until the autumn before deciding whether to make shots mandatory even as the pandemic is cutting into tourism.

ICU units are at 67 percent capacity after falling earlier in the summer, as cases also declined, before the appearance of the Delta variant from India, and people refusing to be vaccinated and violating health measures – not wearing masks, being in public gatherings and wild partying on islands – brought a rebound.

The Eleftheria (Freedom) vaccination campaign has seen 61 percent of the country's population fully vaccinated with two shots of most versions or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson version.

Health authorities had said that 70 percent was the benchmark needed to bring immunity and slow the pandemic but one health official said that it should be as much as 80-85 percent, likely unattainable without shots being made mandatory.

Mitsotakis, after holding back for months and saying he couldn't make health workers in the front line of battling the pandemic be vaccinated, then ordered it and those who refuse will be suspended without pay.

Data published by the Labor Ministry showed that has led to more taking the shot to save their jobs, with 85 percent of employees at private facilities vaccinated compared to 62 percent before the order, the paper also said.

The percentage of vaccinated workers at state-run facilities doubled compared to July – from 45 percent then to 90 percent now but any among the remaining 10 percent will be put on unpaid leave if they still refuse.

Review committees are being set up around the country to look at applications from those wanting to be exempted for accepted health reasons.

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