Greek experts point to a drop in new COVID-19 infections around Greece with 1,250 cases recorded overnight on Monday. There were also 89 deaths, bringing the total death tally in Greece to 3,092 people.

Greek Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Vana Papaevangelou, who is also a member of coronavirus experts of Greece’s Ministry of Health,  said that there is an observable drop in infection rates. She noted that although coronavirus-related hospitalisations have dropped, the national health system’s intensive care units are still under tremendous pressure, especially in northern Greece.

The overburdened situation at ICUs caused the committee to decide not to open schools before the year’s end as opening schools a week ahead of Christmas “would not counterbalance what already is a risky situation”.

She said that “it only takes one infected asymptomatic carrier present in an enclosed space to transmit the virus to anyone present”.

Thessaloniki rates are dropping faster than in Attica, where the Athens capital is located, said Professor Gkikas Magiorkas at the scheduled press briefing.

He said that there was a 25 per cent reduction in Thessaloniki compared to 7-8 per cent in Attica.

Statistics so far show that 40-65 year-olds are the group most afflicted by COVID-19 as well as those over 65 years.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas presents ‘road map’

Greece’s Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas outlined the “road map” for a “gradual and safe” return to everyday life during a press briefing on Monday. Ηe noted that the pressure on the national health system remains great, despite a reduction of cases observed in recent days, and announced that, based on the recommendations of the committee of experts, the following has been decided:

– To keep schools closed until the morning of 7 January, 2021 and to continue distance education until that time.

– That hospitality-sector and entertainment venues, courts and sports activities will remain closed until 6am in the morning of the same day, except those that continue to operate at present (Super League championship in football and basketball).

– Also, the measure prohibiting travel from prefecture to prefecture remains in force, while the measure prohibiting gatherings is extended and teleworking is to remain at the same percentages.

Mr Petsas also said that new announcements are expected in the coming days about what will happen with respect to churches, but also hairdressers and the other branches of retail trade.

Mr Petsas stressed that the improvement in the epidemiological data and is slower than expected “because of the fatigue we all feel after 10 months of fighting against an invisible and insidious enemy, the coronavirus.”

It was indicative, he noted, that mobility during the second lockdown was increased by about 20 per cent compared with the first, even though the restrictions after the closing of schools were essentially the same.

He added that “according to the latest data, there is a relative stabilisation or even a slight decrease in the rolling average number of cases. Also, the number of occupied ICU beds is decreasing and the number of empty non-ICU COVID-19 beds has increased.”

Further announcements will be made for churches, hairdressers and shops later in the week

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses the nation

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Alpha TV during an interview on Monday that restrictions in the second wave were not as severe as those of the first wave.

Citizens are now “tired, naturally” with the virus’ second wave of dispersal and the ongoing home isolation, he noted, then said he fully understands and sympathises with how hard it must be for most people being stuck at home, restricted and removed from paused social activities.

The pressure exerted on the national health system is beginning to subside, as there is an observable reduction in new infections, with measures slowly beginning to show a result.

However, several months are required to reach a level of containment which can only be achieved by mass vaccinations, he underlined. By consequence, he said it does not look possible that night clubs and live venues will reopen before the start of mass inoculations, as the virus is being transmitted avidly at precisely those venues.

“We will salvage what we can from the Christmas trading season,” he added.

READ MORE: Greece’s PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis invites Greeks abroad to work from ‘home’

As a general observation on people keeping up with safety restrictions, he said these could have been followed more diligently by all citizens, closer to how they did during the first outbreak earlier in the year. Consequently, reopening social and trading activity this time around, during the current second lockdown, was a decision impaired, put back by persistent high numbers in new cases.

The most active infection clusters at the moment are to be found not in major urban centers, but outside of those, in villages and smaller towns, as policing there is slightly more lenient than in big cities, he said, urging people to make sure they spend Christmas 2020 at home with their families and a maximum of 9 people, and avoid moving about from one city to another, or between prefectures.

On the subject of Greece reopening its tourism sector earlier in the summer, the Greek Premier said there is no evidence that the second outbreak is in any way related to said reopening, as some had claimed;testament to this is the fact that countries like Israel, that did not reopen borders to tourists, were also hard-hit by a second wave of mass dispersal.

What is of the utmost significance now “is to keep the country’s national health system standing upright, solid, and give doctors and nursing staff a breather,” he stressed. An additional 7,000 doctors and nurses have been hired, while the number of intensive care beds was increased in the meantime, he said.

Knowing that the coronavirus vaccines are upcoming is the “blinding light at the end of the tunnel,” and bearing this in mind, “the message is quite clear: they are safe.”

“It is a miracle of science that we can have those vaccines available in only a matter of a few months,” said the Prime Minister, “and which are actually safe and bring a result.”

The coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer will be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on December 30, he estimated, “and within 48 hours from said approval they will be made available to Greece, signaling the start of mass vaccinations.” Here, Mitsotakis said he fully grasps people’s reluctance to be vaccinated, but he reiterated that they are indeed safe, as they have so far given great results during clinical tests.

Meanwhile, ahead of this positive development, safety restrictions and measures have to be observed by everyone “religiously,” so that schools can reopen on 7 January.

READ MORE: Expats in Greece, a dystopian setting during COVID-19 Lockdown 2.0

Discussing the economic fallout of the pandemic, he acknowledged that a recession of a magnitude of 9-10 per cent “will surely leave behind some open wounds,” but the state has so far stood by its citizens: “it has provided businesses with unprecedented liquidity, has given workers support wages and benefits, has helped professionals who rent commercial shops and premises, entrepreneurs too, while all the while it also postdated citizen’s tax obligations – an important financial package that kept productive economy alive.”

Expanding on economic matters, the Prime Minister referred to EU’s Recovery Fund as a “great opportunity for development and growth,’ and he noted that the first disbursements to Greece, from these support funds, will arrive in 2021. Mitsotakis here said that his intention stands to pursue reforms “sooner rather than later.”

The government managed to point up the fact to the European community that the thorny aspects of relations between Greece and Turkey are a European issue, not just a problem between two regional countries, and this “took a lot of work, in terms of diplomacy.” He called on Turkey to re-evaluate its relationship with the European bloc, and to bear in mind “all cards are on the table” regarding possible decisions which the European Union might take to deal with this issue. Greece stands ready for a dialogue with Turkey, provided that maritime tensions by way of Turkey’s provocations come to an end.

Wrapping up, the Prime Minister said that although 2020 did not turn out to be the year anyone wanted or could have predicted, “it forced us to reevaluate certain things and made us realize that we have strengths we didn’t even know were possible.”