The rapid hike in the daily number of COVID-19 infections and the alarming pressures on the National Health System in northern Greece have put the PM’s office and its advisory expert committee on red alert, even as the government is feverishly planning for a tough winter.

One indication of the severity of the situation is that hospital ICU beds are at full capacity in Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest city, and the region of Thessaly, and hospitals have already been forced to treat intubated patients outside of ICUs.

Tsiodras-Mitsotakis intensive consultations

Professor of Epidemiology Sotiris Tsiodras is meeting with the prime minister at least three times a week, sources say, in order to closely monitor the situation and lay out a strategy.

On 6 October, the government decided to lift all restrictions on vaccinated people in the country’s high-risk red zones, even in northern Greece where the vaccination rate is particularly low. Though it had announced that it would review the measure in two weeks, no action has yet been taken, despite the critical situation in northern regions.

Ominously, the vaccine rollout in the country has come to a standstill, and there has been no informational campaign to speak of since the first wave of the epidemic and the strict lockdown in spring, 2020, when there was a barrage of media ads the with the slogan “We stay at home” had a definite impact on the behaviour of the public.

Amidst heightened concern, the government is struggling to strike a delicate balance between its absolute refusal, as expressed by the PM, to enforce lockdowns that would impact on the already battered economy, and protecting the highly pressurised National Health System from collapse in the most severely affected regions, a veritable squaring of the circle

Fifth wave peak expected in November

Some experts are projecting a peak of the new, fifth wave in November, as Professor of Microbiology Athanasios Athanasios Tsakris has noted, though that is not yet clear.

“We shall see the new wave – comparable to the second wave that we saw in the same period last year – unfolding through December,” he said.

That was when hospitals in northern Greece reached the breaking point and the entire NHS was under extreme pressure.

Already in fifth wave of epidemic

“We passed without a respite from the fourth to the fifth wave and we see it developing at first in northern Greece – due to the very low vaccination rate – and then in the rest of the country,”Tsakris said.

He noted that there will be a sharp rise in cases in November, and that the peak of the fifth wave is expected in winter.

“The endemic wave of coronaviruses is bigger than that of the flu, but we have a significant percentage of vaccinated people, which offers hope for the NHS,” said.

“Logically, there will be a decline in late December as we saw last year when that was followed, however, by a new surge in cases. Vulnerable groups have been vaccinated so we will not have a shutdown again, so that so the economy and society can carry on, as has occurred throughout Europe.”

Tsakris noted that it is necessary for everyone to get a flu shot but that at this point the priority is administering the third vax dose.