People queue outside the AHEPA Hospital in Thessaloniki on Wednesday (Nov. 18) as they wait to do a rapid antigen test [Intime News]
The struggle to control the pandemic is evolving into an anxious race against time as the country’s health system inches closer to its limits, with the data allowing little room for optimism.
Health authorities on Wednesday announced 3,209 new cases and 60 deaths, raising the death toll to 1,288, while the number of intubations reached a record 480 patients.
At the same, almost all of northern Greece is in a heightened state of alert – except for Thessaloniki. A total of 905 cases were identified in the country’s north on Wednesday, with Grevena, Pella, Drama, Pieria, Larissa, Florina, Halkidiki and Evros bearing the brunt of the surge.
Indicative of the pressure on the health system is that while new beds are constantly being made available in intensive care units for coronavirus patients, their rate of occupation remains worryingly high. Tellingly, 510 of the 624 Covid ICU beds were occupied on Wednesday morning.
At the same time, Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said authorities plan to inoculate 2,117,440 people a month once the vaccine arrives in the country. The vaccinations will take place at 1,018 health centers across Greece.
Meanwhile, with the government examining ways to ease the lockdown to ease the impact on the economy, spokesman Stelios Petsas sought on Wednesday to clarify that the lifting of measures will be conditional as the situation remains extremely worrisome. The plan envisages three phases, with schools opening first, as they are considered to carry the least epidemiological burden, followed by retail and finally sit-down restaurants.
Given that the epidemiological curve remains on steep, contrary to expectations of a drop, the most likely scenario is for schools to open on December 7. According to the time frame, retailers will open a week later so that the market can start moving, with restaurants following most likely on December 21 or even 19, which is a Saturday.
Restaurants will open under strict rules, allowing only seated customers, while music will be prohibited. They will also have specific closing times, most likely at 10 or 11 p.m. Among the scenarios on the table is even the use of plexiglass protectors between customers, while a subsidy for heaters and stoves is being mulled so that outdoor spaces can be used to the fullest.
According to Petsas, bars and nightclubs will not open as they draw large crowds.