THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities are taking over two private health clinics and their staff in northern city of Thessaloniki as the region’s public hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases, the country’s Health Ministry said Friday.
The ministry said it had requested beds in private hospitals be made available to the public health system for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, but that “despite the effort, the finding of a mutually acceptable solution was not possible.”
The ministry said that as of Friday it was forcibly appropriating the two clinics and their staff in Greece’s second-biggest city, which is at the the heart of the recent resurgence of the virus in Greece.
One of the clinics has 110 beds and the other 140. The state will pay for the use of the clinics and the staff’s salaries during the appropriation.
The head of Greece’s union of private clinic owners, Grigoris Sarafianos, said a request from health authorities had been submitted Thursday for 200 private beds to be made available to the state for coronavirus patients by 9 p.m. the same day.
Sarafianos, who owns one of the two appropriated clinics, said an agreement reached with health authorities in March and renewed in September was for private clinics to provide beds for non-coronavirus patients.
“We don’t want to become centers of transmission,” said Sarafianos, who added that doctors and nurses would need special training in how to deal with COVID-19 patients.
He said he had not yet received the appropriation order officially, but that the transfer of patients from the clinics to other private facilities had begun.
Sarafianos also voiced concern that once the appropriation ends, prospective patients would avoid the two clinics for fear of catching the coronavirus.
Greece largely escaped the initial outbreak of coronavirus in the spring, with the government credited for imposing an early lockdown.
But it has seen a major resurgence of the virus after the summer, leading to dozens of deaths each day and thousands of new infections. Nearly 500 people are intubated in intensive care units across the country.
According to the latest figures issued Thursday evening, there were more than 85,200 confirmed coronavirus cases and a total of nearly 1,350 deaths in the country of about 11 million people.
A nationwide lockdown has been imposed until the end of the month, with retail stores, schools, bars, restaurants and all entertainment venues shut and a curfew in place between the hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Those who wish to leave home can do so only for specific reasons and must notify authorities by telephone text message or carry a self-written permit. There is no limit, however, on how long people can leave their homes for, or how many times per day.
The outbreak has been particularly severe in northern Greece. Authorities have been increasing the number of intensive care beds in the country, doubling the number available since mid-2019 when the current government came to power.
Of 1,220 intensive care beds now available nationwide, 651 have been made available exclusively for COVID-19 patients, according to figures released Friday. Of those, 555 are already occupied, leaving an availability of just 15%. Thessaloniki has 218 ICU beds available for COVID-19, of which 210 are occupied and just eight are still available.
Nationwide, Greece currently has a total of 6,362 hospital beds dedicated to coronavirus patients, of which 4,079 were occupied on Friday.
Becatoros reported from Athens