NEWS

Three-week lockdown starts Saturday, with eye on ‘normality’ by December

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Greece is to enter its second nationwide lockdown on Saturday, which is to last for three weeks, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday, saying that the move had been inevitable following a sharp spike in coronavirus infections and growing pressure on the country’s intensive care units (ICUs).

Just a few hours after the news, health authorities announced another record in coronavirus cases – 2,917 new infections, bringing the total since the onset of the pandemic to 49,807. There was also a big spike in fatalities, with 29 new ones pushing the death toll up to 702. A total of 187 patients were intubated.

“I chose to take drastic measures sooner rather than later,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation.

The decision, he said, had been driven by an “exponential increase” in cases over the past week and fears about the pressure on the health system becoming “unbearable.”

There was a 20 percent increase in infections nationwide within five days and an increase of 60 percent in intubated patients in eight days, according to the government’s chief epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras, who answered reporters’ questions with Mitsotakis following the announcement. Tsiodras admitted that experts were “surprised by the sudden increase and the aggressiveness of the virus.”

An additional 300 doctors are being assigned to existing ICUs. Meanwhile, there is a plan to enlist the help of private clinics if serious infections escalate.

As of 6 a.m. on Saturday, citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes for physical exercise or walking a pet, medical reasons, shopping, visiting a bank, helping someone in need or taking children to or from school, attending a funeral or exercising parental visitation rights – and only after sending a text message to the 13033 toll-free number.

Written authorizations for people who need to travel for work or some other reason are available on the web page forma.gov.gr.

Most shops will shut, although supermarkets, pharmacies and other retailers of basic goods will remain open.

The main difference compared to the first lockdown in spring is that kindergartens and primary schools will remain open. High schools will operate by remote learning.

Also, borders will remain open. But anyone arriving from abroad will have to present proof of a negative coronavirus test.

The aim, Mitsotakis said, is “to return to some semblance of normality in December.”