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Third COVID-19 Wave Fears Has Greece Scrambling for Response

ATHENS – The New Democracy government going between tough and lenient health measures aimed at both slowing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping a wracked economy afloat not working, Greek health officials fear it will bring a third wave.

Eased health measures, a slow vaccine campaign and variants of the Coronavirus from the United Kingdom and South Africa have combined to sound alarm bells that the pandemic could get worse just as it seemed to be getting better.

The worry is centered in the prefecture of Attica, which includes the Greek capital Athens that has almost half the country’s population of 10.5 million and saw cases rise as crowds gathered for shopping when measures eased.

The battered National Health System (ESY) can’t take another big strain, officials said, reported Kathimerini, with Health Ministry officials seeing 50-80 hospitalizations a day in Attica and 550 Intensive Care Unit beds with ventilators being used, a jump of 95 in a week as of Feb. 1.

The possibility of a third wave and how ESY could deal with it were discussed in a teleconference with Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias, his deputy Vassilis Kontozamanis, Health Ministry Secretary-General for Primary Healthcare Marios Themistokleous, General Secretary of Health Services Ioannis Kotsiopoulos and the President of Greece’s ambulance service, Nikos Papaefstathiou, the paper said.

A new operational plan presented then outlined  interventions to increase the capacity of hospitals for the treatment of COVID-19 but the government, as it said it would, still hasn’t moved to use private hospitals to help after doctors and officials there raised objections.

The plan is modeled on the one followed in Thessaloniki, where during the second wave, ICU units had a 400 percent increase in admissions, although private facilities in Greece’s second-largest city were used then.

On Feb. 1, another 21,841 vaccinations were conducted, bringing the total to  290,947, far behind schedule but with another 90,000 doses coming from US pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.

The government said a total of more than 1,650,000 vaccines will be received by the end of March. Some 410,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United Kingdom will come by the end of February and another 540,000 doses by the end of March.

That is still far short of the goal to inoculate 70 percent of the population of 10.5 million, or 7.35 million people that health officials said is needed to begin to control the pandemic sometime this year.

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