ATHENS, GREECE - Greece has ordered a three-week nationwide lockdown to help contain a dramatic resurgence of COVID-19 infections. It is the second shutdown this year after a sudden surge in infections this week.
Under restrictions taking effect Saturday, retail businesses will be closed, except for supermarkets, pharmacies and banks.
Greeks will need state-authorized permits to venture out of their homes at specific times. While primary schools will remain open, high schools and universities will remain closed, operating by way of online learning sessions.
In a nationally televised news conference, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had no other option than to take aggressive action because the deadly virus was spreading at an alarming rate.
It changed dramatically this week, he said. “We saw the contagion rates increasing at a frightening rate in northern Greece, and we saw similar trends emerging.”
If these measures were not taken now, he said, then the strain on the health care system would become so great within a few weeks that doctors would have to limit admissions to intensive care units.
In the last five days alone, the country has counted 10,000 infections, a fifth of the total number of cases documented since the start of the pandemic here.
Greece’s rolling average of daily new cases is just 17 per 100,000 people, compared to 33 in Britain and 68 in France. Mitsotakis warned, though, that Greece had less of a margin to respond.
Just out of a 10-year devastating financial crisis, Greece took aggressive action at the start of the pandemic to bolster its anemic health care system, adding much-needed personnel and medical supplies to deal with the health crisis.
It managed to keep daily infections down to about a few dozen a day, with a death toll of around 300. Once summer set in and its borders reopened, though, Greeks abandoned all show of social distancing, packing into bars and partying nonstop.
The social rebellion was so intense that a movement of deniers mushroomed across the nation, refusing to don masks, let alone acknowledge the existence of the deadly virus.
Now Mitsotakis is under fire by politicians across the board, accusing him of mismanaging the health crisis.
On Thursday, he seemed apologetic
“Perhaps the gravest mistake we made,” he said, “was that we resigned to this sweeping sense of relief that gripped all of us over the summer, that the pandemic was over and that we had been spared.”
Government officials anticipate the draconian lockdown will stem the spread of the deadly virus in as soon as a week.
Medical experts, though, expect the Greek resurgence to worsen before it will start to recede, and that could well be beyond Christmas and into the new year, when vaccines are anticipated for release.