A race against time, and Omicron

Government hopes to delay spread of new Covid-19 variant before new cases flood hospitals

A race against time, and Omicron

The government’s immediate priority is to delay, to the extent that is feasible, the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Officials say that every day that passes without the variant spreading is a gain, since thousands of people are getting a first dose of vaccine or a booster shot. Delaying the spread of Omicron was also behind the decision to require arrivals from abroad during the holiday season to take either a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, administered up to 72 hours before arrival, or a rapid antigen test, taken in the previous 24 hours.

This is still very much a delaying tactic. It is taken for granted that the Omicron variant will be well-established in Greece in the first half of January and, talk of its supposed mildness notwithstanding, authorities expect that hospitalizations will rise from mid-January onwards. So, authorities want to lighten the current load on the public health system before the new, fifth wave of the pandemic overloads it again.

Three things worry officials: first, the national health system’s capacity, which has been tested ever since the pandemic made its appearance in early 2020 and is still under pressure from the fourth wave, as the number of intubated patients, 684 last Friday, shows; second, the country’s aging population, which makes it more vulnerable to the new wave even if Omicron, already proven highly infectious, turns out to be relatively mild; third, a hard core of elderly vaccine skeptics or outright deniers.

Since the government made it mandatory for the over-60s to be vaccinated, about 150,000 out of 530,000 unvaccinated in that age group have either taken the jab or booked an appointment. But time is running out and, even with those unvaccinated by January 16 facing a monthly fine of 100 euros, officials estimate that not much more than 50% of those 530,000 people will be vaccinated by the deadline.

The government has also had to defend itself from opposition attacks over the findings of a study that show disparities in the quality of ICU treatment across the country.

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