Greece faces renewed lockdown as pressure on hospitals rises

Health

Medical staff conducts a rapid COVID test on an elderly woman in Athens, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Greece has seen a major resurgence of the virus after the summer, leading to dozens of deaths each day and thousands of new infections. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greece is set to extend its lockdown measures beyond the end of November given the spread of COVID-19 and the pressure on hospitals, the country’s health minister warned Monday.

“Based on the epidemic figures, the pressure on the national health system and the spread of the disease, it is self-evident that the (lockdown) measures can’t be lifted at the end of the month,” Vassilis Kikilias told private Mega TV.

“The number of (new) infections must fall and the health system must gain some respite … if we are to gradually regain a partial normality,” he added.

The country of about 11 million people now has more than 92,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,714 deaths — more than 1,000 of which were over the past month — and intensive care unit beds are rapidly filling up. The second nationwide lockdown, including school closures, was imposed earlier this month until Nov. 30.

On Monday, the military was setting up a field hospital with more than 50 beds in the northern city of Thessaloniki, which leads the regional infection breakdown, as part of plans to tackle a surge in the number of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis, who visited the site outside the city’s military hospital, said the field hospital would be ready by the end of the week.

“This mobile hospital is being created in case of a particularly difficult situation and as part of the planning that the armed forces always have” based on the worst possible scenario, Stefanis said.

The field hospital is to have 50 normal beds for COVID-19 patients and two ICU beds.

Thessaloniki has been at the center of the country’s spike in coronavirus cases. On Friday, health authorities appropriated two private clinics in the city and their staff to be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“After the rapid increase in admissions, both the hospitals in Thessaloniki and their medical staff have reached their limits,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Monday.

According to figures released by health authorities on Friday, only 4% of ICU beds dedicated to the treatment of coronavirus patients in Thessaloniki were still available, with 210 of the 218 already occupied.

On Monday, authorities said the nationwide occupancy of COVID-19 ICU beds was 86% — and roughly 99% for northern Greece.

“We issue this final plea: Help us so we can help you. One in two people in the ICU will die — understand this,” said Panagiotis Touchtidis, head of the staff association at Thessaloniki’s Papageorgiou Hospital.

Touchtidis appealed to people he said displayed a lackadaisical attitude toward mask-wearing to strictly adhere to the rules.

“Some people still think this is the flu. But the flu never killed 110 people in a day, especially before winter sets in. Unfortunately, we will reach the point where, unless people observe the (restriction) measures, we will not be able to intubate people because there will be no respirators available,” he added.

Greece has seen daily COVID-19 deaths spiral to above 100 over the weekend, with 108 people dying on Saturday and another 103 on Sunday. On Monday, another 84 people died and 1,388 new confirmed infections were recorded.

Meanwhile at Greece’s only functioning road crossing into Bulgaria, a traffic jam built up on the Bulgarian side as Greek border officials tested all incoming motorists for COVID-19 before they were allowed entry.

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Follow Costas Kantouris at https://twitter.com/CostasKantouris

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