NEWS

Concerns grow over tests for coronavirus

STAVROS PAPANTONIOU, PENNY BOULOUTZA, YIANNIS ELAFROS

Workers in protective gear spray disinfectant in a hall of a municipal building in Athens, Greece, 17 March 2020 [Kostas Tsironis/EPA]

TAGS: Politics, Coronavirus

As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday sought to emphasize the risks posed by the spread of the coronavirus and appealed to citizens to act responsibly, concerns were growing over whether there will be an adequate supply of reagents for the necessary laboratory tests to be conducted. 

In his second televised speech to the nation in a week, Mitsotakis echoed French President Emmanuel Macron by declaring that “we are at war.” “The enemy is invisible but not invincible,” he said. “If we curb the spread of the virus, we give the health system time to address urgent cases,” he added, noting that “our first priority is to save lives.” 

There are fears, however, about whether demand for testing for the virus can be matched by the supply of reagents. The long supply chain – starting in China and coming via factories in Germany – combined with the massive international demand has already resulted in significant shortages and delays in conducting tests, even on samples that have already been collected.

As a result, tests are being prioritized for people with symptoms of the virus who belong to vulnerable groups of the population, such as the elderly or those with existing medical conditions.

Meanwhile, as scientists around the world stress the need for mass, random tests on the general population to provide a clearer overview of the spread of the virus, the Health Ministry’s representative Sotiris Tsiodras indicated on Tuesday that there are plans to gather samples from the community, possibly even at people’s homes if necessary. 

The number of coronavirus cases in Greece rose by 35 to 387 on Tuesday, Tsiodras said, adding that one more person had died, bringing the death toll to five. Tests have been conducted on 4,900 people so far, he added. 

In his speech, Mitsotakis underlined the three key goals of his administration: curbing the spread of the virus, boosting the country’s health system and supporting the economy and workers. 

He suggested that new measures would have to be imposed over the coming weeks, indicating that the risk posed by the spread of the virus will grow significantly over the next two months.

“We must all show discipline,” he said, adding that those who act in an anti-social manner, violating the measures imposed by the authorities to curb the virus’ spread, will be penalized, “because they will have committed a double crime: against the law and against life.”

There was no indication Tuesday of what any new measures would comprise, though sources indicated that a general lockdown along the lines of that in force in Italy is not currently being considered. 

In his speech, Mitsotakis stressed that his government’s primary concern was for “people and public health.” “That is why we imposed, earlier than other European countries, unprecedented measures for peacetime.” 

The capital’s NIMTS Hospital will be turned into a center for the treatment of coronavirus patients, Mitsotakis said, adding that, with the help of private clinics, 1,900 additional hospital beds will be available for patients afflicted with the virus.

He added that the government will provide 2.5 billion euros to tackle the problems to the economy and labor market caused by the repercussions of the virus. And he appealed to employers not to dismiss workers as the government is planning measures that will boost liquidity and will allow them to endure the crisis. 

According to government, the premier will make regular televised addresses in a bid to keep citizens informed. 

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