As concerns about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus heighten, with cases rising to 89 on Tuesday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is on Wednesday expected to herald additional measures to contain it.
Of the five new cases confirmed on Tuesday, one of the patients had recently traveled to London.
Health authorities’ greatest concern is the four cases reported on Monday, as the sources of infection have not been traced, pointing to community transmission. Meanwhile, shipping magnate Vangelis Marinakis, the owner of Olympiakos football club and English side Nottingham Forest, announced on Tuesday that he had contracted the virus and placed himself in self-isolation.
Health experts expect a spike in infections over the coming three to four weeks before a lull in the summer due to the onset of spring in May, and its reappearance in October.
Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias on Tuesday announced the closure of all schools and universities for 14 days as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision relates to all state and public schools, kindergartens and universities, Kikilas said, adding that the measure is preventive and aimed at reducing the spread of the virus. Cramming schools will also close for two weeks.
Tellingly, authorities are reportedly also mulling a possible deferral, if necessary, of university entrance exams from June to July or even September as an extreme precaution.
The measures announced are expected to impact some 1.5 million school pupils and university students, and around 140,000 teachers and professors working at nurseries, schools and universities – not including those employed at other educational institutions, such as cramming schools.
Kikilias said special measures would be taken to help working parents and businesses affected by the closures. The Labor, Interior and Finance ministries are working on a “mixed system” of leave that would spread the burden between the employee on the one hand and the employer or the state on the other, depending on whether the employee is in the public of private sector. In the first instance, working parents will be entitled to a total of 15 days’ leave.
At the same time the Education Ministry is working on plans to make up the lost teaching hours.
Up until Tuesday, some 100 schools had been shut down around the country – most of them in the prefectures of Achaia, Ileia and Zakynthos in Western Greece.
The ministry reportedly believes that the backlog created by the days lost so far, as well as the ones over the next two weeks, is, for the time being, manageable.
If the suspension of schools is extended beyond 14 days, lessons will be taught on some days over the Easter holidays, while the curriculum will also be reduced.
“In any case, our intention is to operate distance learning to maintain close contact between pupils and students with the educational process,” Education Minister Niki Kerameus told Kathimerini.
Meanwhile, the use of private vehicles has increased at the expense of public transport – a trend which appears to be following the rise in confirmed cases of the virus.
Tellingly, traffic on Attiki Odos, the Athens ring road, rose by 5.66 percent compared to February (235,743 vehicles per day against 223,114) while at the same time, in the absence of official data, authorities estimate that commuters on the capital’s public transport system in February dropped some 15 percent.