Attica, Greece’s most populous region, will enter a hard lockdown on Thursday, which will last until the end of February, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Tuesday.
This means that no retail stores, other than supermarkets and bakeries, will be open and that schools of all grades will return to online instruction. Further details will be announced Wednesday by Nikos Hardalias, the deputy minister in charge of civil protection.
Mitsotakis gave two reasons for more restrictions in the Athens area: an increase in hospital admissions of coronavirus patients that is putting a strain on the capacity of the National Health System and the virus’ mutations that appear to make it more easily transmissible.
In his brief TV appearance, Mitsotakis did all he could to insert a note of optimism, saying that this is the virus’ “final assault ahead of the final victory [through] vaccination,” and adding that things will be much better in April. But he admitted that the next two months will be crucial and that the disease could still spread rapidly, like a fire. “Now, we must prevent the danger,” he said.
The prime minister did not exclude more measures over the two-month period, warning, as health experts have recently done, that restrictions could flow and ebb depending on the spread of the disease.
The increasing vaccinations – Mitsotakis said they will soon reach 500,000 – will help the most vulnerable in fighting the disease “and this could lead to an earlier-than-expected full opening of the market,” said Mitsotakis.
The decision for a stricter lockdown in the capital region was expected. Daily cases had begun rising to levels last seen in November, when the second, not-so-tight lockdown was imposed. Hospital beds were filling again and analysis of human waste revealed a steep increase in the spread of the virus. Last Friday, 13 of the 33 epidemiologists advising the government had demanded immediate and drastic measures.
Mitsotakis is under pressure to open up the economy, including cafés and restaurants, well before spring peaks. It is not only that this year’s tourist season must be far better than during the disastrous 2020.
There is also a budget issue: The government has already spent €5.9 billion of the €7.5 billion it has set aside to support suffering businesses. The money is expected to run out by the end of March.