NEWS

Omicron comes early, wreaks havoc

Explosion in number of infections forces government to review rollout of restrictive measures

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The Omicron variant of the coronavirus does not respect holiday schedules and the explosion of new cases it brings have messed up the Greek government’s planning, quite likely bringing forward new restrictions ahead of New Year’s Eve.

The number of new Covid-19 cases announced Tuesday evening, 21,657 for the 24-hour period ending at 3 p.m. Tuesday, went beyond the wildest predictions of experts who had warned the previous day they expected the cases to be up to 12,000. The number of cases in the capital region alone, 9,882, was well above the previous daily record for the whole country, 9,284, set Monday. And the peak may not arrive until sometime next month.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Health Ministry leadership, including top scientific advisers, will meet this morning, but it will be the appointed committee of experts that will make its proposals at an early afternoon meeting, which the government may accept in whole or partly.

Tuesday’s announcement did not come as a total surprise. Viral load data had indicated that the Omicron variant was spreading as fast as everywhere in Europe. Adapting the measures, and their rollout, to meet the new facts, will naturally follow.

Officials are worried about how Omicron, which represents the fifth wave of the pandemic, will put pressure on the National Health System, with more beds needed for patients and intensive care units for the worst afflicted. The government had hoped that Omicron would not appear until mid-January, giving time for vaccinations to proceed and the patients from the fourth wave to recover and free hospital beds.

“One should always adapt tactics to the spread of the pandemic,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told Mega TV, hinting at the revision of the measures to come.

“This has dragged on for two years. No decision will be painless; they all create problems and hurt some less and others some more,” Oikonomou said, adding that the booster shot program is going well and that 88% of adults have been vaccinated.

The spokesman referred to the new variant’s faster infection rate and the danger of more unvaccinated people over the age of 60 filling hospital beds. He also defended the decision to restrict attendance at spectator sports.