Greece announced that it would be adjusting Covid-19 lockdown measures and restrictions week by week depending on the epidemiological situation in each of its cities and regions in efforts to prevent a third wave of the deadly virus, which experts expect to hit in February.
At the same time, Greek health experts, including National Public Health Organization President Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, are warning that a third wave is on its way and that the country’s health system is already overloaded.
“The next three months will be extremely difficult. There is an outbreak around the world, possibly a third wave. We are preparing for the third wave and are observing the mutation of the virus,” Arkoumaneas told SKAI television.
He went on however to add that a step towards normalcy was re-opening nursery and grade schools on Monday. Opening high schools is next on the education ministry agenda.
Arkoumaneas stressed the importance of vaccination.
“If in the coming months we have vaccinated those over 70 who are the most vulnerable… as of March, the situation will be much better,” he said, adding that compared to Europe, “Greece has vaccinated 0.4 percent of its population… Only one European country has inoculated more than 1 percent.”
Covid Fears for Attica
Authorities fear an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Attica and the wider Athens area, particularly in view of the fact that more than half of the positive cases are asymptomatic. At the same time, the arrival last week of a variant of the virus has also caused alarm.
Epidemiologists are expecting the spread of the deadly virus to be evident and assessable in the coming weeks. Speaking on SKAI television on Monday, Athens and Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association (EINAP) President Matina Pagoni stressed that a third wave next month would put too much pressure on the already inundated national health system.
Pagoni went on to note that the current containment measures across Greece will have to be extended by at least two weeks, after January 18, and that vaccinations will have to move at a faster pace.
In this direction, the health ministry said vaccinations would increase from 8,000 currently to 17,500 daily as of January 20.
Greece’s vaccination plan enters phase 2 this week with the online platform accepting appointments for citizens over 85 after January 20. Inoculations are ongoing for health care workers and medical staff.
In the last 24 hours, Greek health authorities announced 445 new Covid-19 cases and six new deaths.
Retail in Despair
In the meantime, Greece’s Covid-19 committee and relevant ministries are again examining whether to re-open retail, which remains closed as part of extended measures announced last week to January 18.
Alternate Investments and Development Minister Nikos Papathanasis said relevant decisions are set to be reached this week depending on expert guidance. He added that businesses impacted by the lockdown measures are already receiving state subsidies and that even the brief re-opening of the market over the holiday boosted turnover.
Earlier this month, the government announced seven measures aimed at stimulating the market. The new support schemes for small businesses enable lending and include NSRF programs backing retail and catering services providers, as well as rent reductions for affected companies.
According to media reports, the finance ministry is set to announce a new round of support measures in the coming period.
Tourism to Greece on Hold
Indicatively, November 2020 passenger traffic all but halted at Greece’s major airports impacted by the ongoing containment measures.
Given the rate of spread, the anticipated penetration of the vaccine as well as the effectiveness of containment measures, Greek tourism sector professionals are expecting the season to open after May.
In the meantime, the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority issued a new aviation directive (NOTAM) last week ordering seven-day quarantine for passengers entering Greece on flights from any foreign country (including EU member states) through midnight January 21.