ATHENS, GREECE - Three months after easing nationwide restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the government in Athens has placed the tiny Greek island of Poros into fresh lockdown following a sudden flare-up of infections in scores of locals and tourists. The lockdown comes as the coronavirus pandemic spreads rapidly in Greece, tripling infections in the past 10 days alone and marring the country’s image as a near virus-free summer retreat.
With a population of about 3,000, Poros, a one-hour jaunt from the Greek capital, has been a favorite destination this summer, attracting record numbers of tourists seeking a safe summer hideout from the coronavirus.
But on Friday, most of Poros' visitors were seen scrambling onto ferries bound for Athens or other islands.
More than 30 people, mainly young Greeks, tested positive for COVID-19 within a 24-hour period, an outbreak officials fear could spread rapidly across the idyllic, pine-cloaked island.
Scores of suspected cases are being examined with results likely by the end of the weekend.
But authorities, concerned by the rising rates of COVID-19 infections across the country, are not taking any chances. They are taking aggressive action to contain the flare-up in Poros.
Bars and nightclubs are barred from operating at late hours. Curfews now have been imposed. All social and religious events have been suspended. And beginning at dawn, text messages from homeland security offices have been ringing across Poros, notifying people to wear masks.
It is not clear what exactly caused the Poros outbreak. Authorities have not tracked the infections to “patient zero.”
Whatever the reason though, local officials, including Mayor Giannis Dimitriadis, blame authorities for being too lax in monitoring regulations that have been in effect for weeks.
In every society, authorities set the example by observing regulations and keeping citizens vigilant, he said. Police here were not enforcing the rules, he said.
Dimitriadis said he notified authorities more than a month ago, urging them to act against what he called recurring and serious lapses.
But Poros is just one example of what critics are calling state neglect and reckless behavior by locals defying existing regulations across the country.
“The rising rate has me extremely concerned,” Manolis Dermitzakis, a Greek professor of medicine in the University of Geneva said. “We’ve seen cases triple in a short period of time in Greece.” And ultimately, he said, it all boils down to the fact that measures are not being fully adhered to.
What’s the point, he said, of having a mandatory mask order when most Greeks are wearing them under their noses, beneath their chins or dangling on one of their ears? This half-baked compliance is dangerous, he said.
Since the Poros outbreak, authorities have intensified inspections, issuing steep fines against offenders.
But if the measures fail to quash Greece’s rise in new coronavirus infections, the government may have no other option than to take tougher, nationwide measures, potentially reimposing a national lockdown.
Until then, the U.S. State Department is urging American citizens to reconsider travel plans to Greece.