Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday a three-week nationwide lockdown in an effort to stop an “aggressive” jump in infections and avoid an "unbearable" pressure on hospitals.
The lockdown will be the second since the start of the pandemic and will go into effect on Saturday morning.
"We are dealing with the biggest health crisis of the last 100 years," Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation, adding that his decisions are being guided by the expert committee advising the government. “Once again, I choose to take measures sooner rather than later."
All retail stores will close and travel between regions will be banned, while authorities will reintroduce a system obliging citizens to send text messages to a government number to leave home to work, shop, visit a doctor or take exercise. Secondary schools will close and introduce distance learning, but kindergartens and primary schools will stay open.
Taxis will be allowed to have just one passenger per ride, with the exception of families, couples and people who require assistance for their movement.
Mitsotakis says a surge in new cases over the last five days have “forced” him to take measures now, instead of waiting to see if recent restrictions will pay off. If the government waited and current measures didn’t work, the pressure on hospitals would be “unbearable,” he explained. "We estimate, we hope, that three weeks will be enough," he added.
He also said the government will financially support citizens who will be affected by the new lockdown, noting that details of the plan will be presented by Finance Minister Christos Staikouras later today.
The government hopes Greece will return to "some kind of normalcy" before the Christmas holidays in December, but several restrictive measures will remain in place.
He accepted responsibility for the mistakes made in the handling of the pandemic, citing "a general complacency" which followed the successful handling of the first wave of the coronavirus.
In the same presser, infectious diseases professor Sotiris Tsiodras presented data from the last few weeks showing the surge in new cases and intubations.
"Never before in modern history has it happened that we have so many patients in ICUs from a virus that causes pneumonia," he said, adding that more than 170 hospital admissions are recorded per day, causing unbearable pressure on the national healthcare system.
The decision to propose a general lockdown was unanimous among the expert committee. "We recognize the consequences and hope it will be temporary," he said.
Tsiodras super-spreader events of mass gatherings have contributed to the deterioration of the epidemiological data and suggested that scientists are examining whether the virus has mutated.
Health authorities have been conducting about 19,000 PCR tests per day from September 10 onwards, while the number of positive tests now exceeds 9%.