In an effort to boost inoculation rates, Greek authorities announced a spate of new measures for unvaccinated citizens such as the suspension of free COVID-19 tests and attendance restrictions, the country's health minister said Tuesday.
From Sept. 13 until March 31, all private and public sector workers without a certificate proving vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 within the last six months will have to undergo one rapid test per week, Health Minister Vassilis Kililias said. Two tests per week will be required for people working in academia, tourism, restaurants, cafes, bars, in entertainment productions as well as for school and university students, he said.
The tests will be conducted at private facilities, with the cost (10 euros, $12) to be paid by the tested individuals. The government intends to cover the costs of testing school students. Stressing that more than 90% of the COVID-19 patients in Greece's intensive care units (ICUs) are unvaccinated, Kililias said that entertainment venues and businesses serving food and drinks will only admit customers who are vaccinated or recently recovered from the disease, with verification checks conducted at entrances through an app that scans health certificates.
Unvaccinated people will be able to enter indoor movies, theaters, museums, archaeological sites and gyms only with proof of a negative rapid test conducted up to 48 hours before. Venues will also have the right to admit only vaccinated customers, the minister said.
Masks will be mandatory for everyone in indoor public areas and in outdoor crowded areas. Proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative rapid test within the past 48 hours will also be required to travel by plane, train, boat or long-distance bus for anyone age 12 and over.
For children ages 5-12, a self-test is acceptable, with the results uploaded to a government website. Kikilias also stressed there would be no grace period for the previously announced suspension from work as of Sept. 1 of health care and care home workers who refuse to get vaccinated.
Greece has been seeing a steady increase in confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, as well as hospitalizations and intubations, over the past several weeks. ICU beds for COVID-19 patients are more than 68% full, while regular COVID-19 wards are 45% full, health ministry figures show.
More than 11 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 5.6 million people now fully vaccinated. Vaccines are freely available for anyone over 12. "Thanks to the vaccine, we will not convert our hospitals again to prioritize those who are seriously ill with COVID,” Kikilias said, adding that hospitals will continue caring for all cases.
"The contrary would be both unfair and unethical towards the majority of citizens who have been vaccinated and are suffering from other illnesses, and of course have a right to proper care,” he said. Greece, which has a population of around 11 million, has reported over 560,000 confirmed cases and 13,422 deaths in the pandemic.