Greece braces for spike in coronavirus


With the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rising to 31 on Thursday after 21 travelers who had recently returned from a pilgrimage to religious sites in Israel and Egypt tested positive, health authorities are bracing for a spike in the disease. 

“The coming weeks will see a significant increase in cases in Greece,” said Sotiris Tsiodras, the Athens University professor in charge of the expert committee advising the government on its response to the virus. 

The new cases emerged as health authorities tried to track and test some 400 people believed to have come into close contact with the travelers, which include the 66-year-old Greek man who became the country’s ninth case after testing positive on Wednesday.

He was being treated in an isolation unit at a hospital in Patra, western Greece, with a serious respiratory illness. His wife also tested positive on Thursday.

Nine of the new patients were being treated in a hospital in the Patra suburb of Rio, with three of them showing serious symptoms, Tsiodras told journalists. The rest remained confined at home.

The same applied to 11 doctors and nurses at the Rio hospital, as well as the staff at the one Amaliada, which had initially treated the 66-year-old without taking any protective measures, since he was not considered a “suspicious” case. 

Α 48-hour suspension was announced by the University of Crete in Rethymno because one of the students took part in the group trip to Egypt and Israel.  

In another development yesterday, health authorities were briefly placed on alert over a cruise ship that had docked in Piraeus on Wednesday following reports that an Austrian passenger on a previous trip had tested positive for the coronavirus.

However, the MSC Opera, which left the Italian port of Genoa at the end of last month, finally docked at its final port of call, Corfu, on Thursday and its 1,579 passengers and 723 crew members were allowed to disembark after Greek health officials deemed that there were no suspicious cases aboard and no need for additional measures.  

Meanwhile, in comments to state television channel ERT on Thursday, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras conceded that the repercussions on the economy of the coronavirus were “bigger and more numerous than initially anticipated” but said that the government will do all it can to support affected enterprises.

The businesses expected to be hardest hit by the virus – such as cinemas and theaters, which may be obliged to remain closed indefinitely – are to be prioritized in the state relief program currently under discussion. The first measure being planned by the government is the suspension of the tax obligations of affected businesses.

Authorities have already carried out an initial assessment of the impact of the virus on tourism and shipping – two critical sectors for Greece, Staikouras said, adding that officials would continue to monitor those areas closely. He also underlined the need for “centralized European policies to tackle the problem,” noting that he and eurozone finance ministers had discussed the issue earlier this week.