A sudden rise in coronavirus infections in Attica this past week prompted the government to impose stricter measures across the board in the largest region of the country as of Saturday, focused mainly on the market and on delaying the return of grades 10-12 to classrooms.

Overnight there were 941 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and 22 deaths, bringing total fatalities to 5,764.

In a live briefing on Friday, Development and Investments Minister Adonis Georgiadis and Deputy Civil Protection Minister for Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias announced stricter restrictions for Attica retail stores, which will return to online orders and in-person pickups (“click away”), with some exceptions.

Clothes and shoe stores and bookshops in Attica will operate by the “click-in-store” method as of 20 January, which allows a limited number of customers in store after prearranged appointments. Hairdressers and beauty salons will operate by appointment only. Unlike previous times, stores will not be open on Sunday, 31 January.

Mr Hardalias also announced a simplified two-tier system of epidemiological alert nationally that shares the basic obligatory health rules, such as wearing masks and sending SMS (text messages) to authorities before leaving home, and keeping curfew.

Level A (yellow alert) areas are those being monitored for changes in infection rates, and Level B (red) are areas under high-alert due to increased numbers on infections.

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Besides the restrictions in retail as of Saturday in Attica, placed under the red level, only grades 7-9 will return to school as planned on Monday, February 1, while upper classes (10-12) will remain on remote operation in Attica Region. In other areas, classes will resume for these upper grades as well. Kindergartens and primary schools have been open since 11 January.

Religious services are allowed, but only up to 9 people may attend them in red areas and up to 25 in yellow areas.

In terms of overnight curfews, in yellow-tier areas it is 21:00-05:00. In red areas it starts at 18:00, but Attica was exempted, as the restriction would create havoc in traffic and transportation.

Besides Attica, other red-tiered regions announced by Hardalias include: Lesvos region, Eordea municipality in Kozani region, the municipalities of Thiveon and Tanagra at Boeotia region, Sparta municipality at Lakonia region, Halkideon municipality and the Roma settlement in the Distion municipal area of Kimi-Aliverti municipality of Evia region, Nea Propontida municipality at Halkidiki region, Patras municipality of Achaia region, and Thira and Mykonos regions.

Spike in Attica infections

The rapid change in Attica region infections last week after three weeks of an improving set of data “is disturbing”, infectious diseases specialist Vana Papaevangelou said on Friday.

In a live briefing with ministers and another doctor, both of them members of the Health ministry’s coronavirus pandemic committee, she said that the rise in infections in Attica was observed “across the board in all neighborhoods, not just a single metropolitan sector or municipality of Attica.”

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Numbers also rose, she said, in hospitalized patients in Attica, where plain Covid-19 beds are 43 percent full and ICUs devoted to the disease are 61 per cent full.

This past week over 27,000 diagnostic tests were conducted per day, with a slight rise in positivity to 2.3 pct for the entire week, nationally.

Despite a slightly rising viral load in Western Attica and central Athens for the past three weeks, and a slight rise nationally, it was the last week’s sudden rise in all Attica regions that raised the alarm with authorities, she noted. In Attica, “compared to the previous week, we had an increase of new infections by 45 percent,” while active infections are estimated at around 2,800 in total in the region.

The rise in rolling average per week of infections in Attica rose from 4.8 pct per 100,000 people to 7.1 pct, she said.

“Obviously, our focus switched from Northern Greece to Attica,” she noted, “where, unfortunately, the epidemiological picture changed.”

Vaccinations surpass 80 mln globally

The number of people globally who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine is over 80 million, member of the Health Ministry’s coronavirus committee Gkikas Magiorkinis said on Friday.

During a live briefing with ministers and another committee member, also an infectious disease specialist, Magiorkinis said that in Europe 30 million people have been diagnosed as having been infected and 690,000 have died of Covid-19.

He added that the global death rate did not drop as of September, but recent signs show it may be falling. In Europe, the rate of new diagnoses appears to be going down to around 200,000 new cases per day, Magiorkinis said.

Alternate Health Minister Vassilis Kontozamanis said during a question-and-answer period with the press that coronavirus vaccines “cannot be sold in the black market in Greece as the distribution and its storage is controlled by the state.” He did point out however that there are online attempts to market so-called vaccines.