Coronavirus cases are expected to keep rising, hitting a peak around the middle of the month before starting to ease towards the end of March, putting a cautious reopening of the economy within reach, several experts indicated in comments on Tuesday.
“This ordeal is dragging on, lasting a lot longer than we wanted. We might see an increase in deaths and intubations, but the situation will gradually come under control,” Alkiviadis Vatopoulos, a microbiologist from the University of West Attica and a member of the government’s advisory committee, told Skai television.
“What frightens us is the unexpected, some regional super-spreader incident we had not accounted for,” he said.
Vatopoulose added that current lockdown measures are likely to be extended for a week beyond the current estimate of March 16 so as to allow a reopening of schools and retail commerce after that date, with restaurants following in April. The intention, he said, is to “reopen without then having to shut down again.”
Commenting on the rising number of younger people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19, Vatopoulos said this is due to the new coronavirus variants, whose behavior is still being investigated, and also to the fact that older people are getting vaccinated and tend to be more cautious about exposing themselves to possible infection.
The likelihood of a continued rise in case numbers was also confirmed by Nikos Tzanakis, a pneumonologist at the University of Crete and president of the Hellenic Thoracic Society.
He told Skai that he expects cases to peak around March 20, possibly with as many as 3,000 or more new positive tests a day, with the daily average ranging at around 2,000 to 2,500 cases before numbers start to drop.
Commenting on the possibility of a gradual reopening of schools and retail commerce on Monday, March 22, he said that “if the phenomenon starts to de-escalate, we will be able to open, very carefully.”
Aristotle University environmental and health engineering expert Dimosthenis Sarigiannis appeared a bit more optimistic on Tuesday, forecasting a gradual easing of new cases starting this weekend, but said that pressure on hospitals and intensive care units will continue to rise, probably peaking around March 24-26.
He was also optimistic about a gradual reopening being possible as of March 22, though he expressed the belief that schools should come after retail.
For Athens University emergency medicine expert Theodoros Vassilakopoulos, Greece is “in its worst phase right now and the situation in Athens is bad.” However, he added that “this time we will be more cautious about returning to normal.”
In his comments to Antenna television, Vassilakopoulos also claimed that some 40% of citizens over the age of 80 years old have not been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus and 30% of health workers are opposed to the jab.