By George Gison
The head of Greece’s National Public Health Organisation (EODY), Panagiotis Arkoumaneas at a news conference this afternoon blasted “unacceptable” press reports suggesting that the super spreading of SARS-CoV-2 in Northern Greece was because EODY keeps double books and that this made it very difficult for virologists and other experts on the National Committee on COVID-19 management to plan suitable measures to halt the spread.
The story was carried in the Sunday print edition of the newspapers To Vima and Dimokratia.
It was Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias who brought EODY into the limelight – four days before the reports were published, in an apparent attempt at pre-emptive damage control -when at a regular 25 November ministry press briefing on COVID-19 developments he took the podium in order to instead make a lengthy presentation of the history of EODY (formerly KEELPNO) going back as far as the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 outbreak.
The unhealthy history of the current EODY
Aside from the diachronic accomplishments of EODY and its precursor, KEELPNO, which Kikilias detailed, for many years before the current conservative government rose to power there had been rampant charges that successive governments had used KEELPNO – which the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis renamed EODY in order to signal a fresh start – as a patronage vehicle. The allegation was that governments used advertising funding to publishers and other media outlets – in some cases in the hundreds of thousands of euros – to buy their favour.
These payments included advertising parceled out to government-friendly media that had an extremely small readership or audience.
Arkoumaneas described the most recent press reports as “unacceptable” and “malicious.
“There is one and only one [COVID-19] case recording system which is the National Registry of COVID-19 patients that since March is operating under the terms of a related law that describes all its functions. A bit more specifically, on a daily basis public and private hospitals, public and private labs, EODY, and the General Secretariat for Civil Protection record cases in the sole existing COVID-19 registry,” he said.
Critics however have charged that the way data is collected and recorded is problematic.
Arkoumaneas also dismissed suggestions of impropriety in assigning the processing of COVID-19 rapid tests to a private company, noting that the contract was posted in June on the state’s DIAVGEIA (transparency) website.
«I read in press reports which refer to certain contracts with private companies and shady agreements and indeed call upon us to post them on the internet. I imagine that the writers are referring to a specific contract which as of 2 June 2020 has been posted on the [state] DIAVGEIA [transparency in Greek] website, on the central electronic registry of public contracts, and on th European Commission’s platforms,» he said at the presser.
He reportedly has issued a gag order forbidding EODY employees from speaking to the press.
Magiorkinis denies double registry, rings public health alarm bell
The spokesman for the expert national committee, virologist and Athens Medical School Professor Gkikas Magiorkinis, also maintained that there is no second registry and extolled the work of those responsible for data collection.
“The collection, submission, and presentation of data on a daily basis is a titanic scientific effort which is part of the chain of medical care that includes doctors, nurses, and public and private lab employees, all of whom carry out the duty of recording cases in the exceptionally difficult conditions created by the pressure of the second wave in honest cooperation with EODY and the health ministry. These data as has been said and clarified are to be found on a single and only COVID-19 Patients’ Registry.”
Margiorkinis also warned that the epidemic in Greece is at a critical stage and that strict compliance with public health rules and restrictions is crucial especially at this time.
The country has been rocked by the tragic situation at hospitals in northern Greece that are imploding and frantically airlifting patients to other regions.
“At this moment our evaluation is that active cases in both Attica and Thessaloniki are still at exceptionally high levels, approximately the level of early November. Given this fact extraordinary caution and adherence to [public health] measures is needed in order for the number of active cases to decline and for the health system to be decongested.”
The data and the holidays
EODY registered 85 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing Greece’s coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the first epidemic to 2,406 in total. There were also 1,044 new coronavirus cases today, of which nine were identified at the country’s entry points.
The government has over the last few weeks sent mixed signals about the dates when lockdown measures may gradually be lifted with the initial projection being 7 December. That caused an outcry among members of the government’s scientific committee and the government backed off on any projections.
It now declares that everything will depend on the development of epidemiological data.
Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias said Christmas will be «different compared to previous years,» and noted that even home visits to friends and family are not allowed as long as the lockdown is in place.
Regarding the fact that the second wave of the epidemic has been much more intense in Thessaloniki and Northern Greece in general than in Attica he attributed that in part to a possibly more lax implementation of public health rules in those regions of the country, though he offered no indication of why that might be.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccines will become available in Greece when the licensing process has been completed by the European Medicines Agency. Vaccination against the coronavirus will not be obligatory, stressed the minister, and citizens will not be able to choose an alternative vaccine, he clarified.
EODY registered 85 deaths in the last 24 hours – there have repeatedly been over 100 recently – and the death toll since the beginning of the epidemic is currently at 2,406.
EODY has so far performed 2,400,000 PCR tests and approximately 215,000 rapid diagnostic tests for the coronavirus,
The percentage of coronavirus infection is 9.19 percent nationwide and around 7.5 percent for Attica region.
All cases in Greece total 105,271 of which 4,888 have been linked to travel from abroad and 28,075 to already confirmed cases.