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A snowstorm of rare vigour and durability has forced the Greek government to delay the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive after citizens were advised to remain at home.
Inoculation centres, including mega facilities capable of vaccinating up to 20,000 people a day, were ordered to close as the unusually cold front swept across Greece.
“We obviously recommend great care be taken in all movement, all unnecessary movement should be avoided,” said the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, after holding emergency talks with civil protection leaders. “I think we’ll all have to show patience as we deal with a phenomenon that is truly unprecedented.”
Hampered by the slow rollout of vaccines across Europe, authorities have so far managed to inoculate only a fraction of Greece’s 11 million strong population.
An estimated 7.5 million people would need to have received the jab to achieve herd immunity, according to epidemiologists.
Health officials had accelerated the campaign on Monday, when giant vaccination centres in Athens and the northern metropolis of Thessaloniki opened, before services were halted because of the storm.
Power shortages and water supply cuts caused by uprooted trees were reported in central Greece and in multiple municipalities across the capital, where most Greeks live. The fire service said it had received more than 600 calls for assistance in greater Athens by mid-afternoon. Some 450 men, women and children, forced to endure the freezing temperatures in tents in a refugee camp close to the city centre, were relocated to another installation.
The vaccination drive to date has focused mostly on elderly people in care homes, with officials announcing the milestone of 500,000 inoculations being crossed at the weekend.
Greece has recorded 173,905 coronavirus cases and just over 6,000 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago.
Tuesday’s blizzard arrived in the midst of a national lockdown, first enforced in November, and prolonged last week, as a surge in infection rates filled beds in intensive care wards, putting immense strain on the ability of the health system to cope with more Covid-19 patients.
With the bad weather expected to hold through to Wednesday – and temperatures dropping to -25C in parts of northern Greece overnight – it was unclear when the vaccination programme will resume. Vaccines that went unused have been delivered to prisons so they wouldn’t be lost, officials said.
Snowstorms, which also pummelled Turkey, are extremely rare in Athens further south.
The cold snap initially hit the sprawling capital’s northern suburbs late Monday. But by daybreak, seaside suburbs along the Athenian riviera were turned white, while snow blanketed the Acropolis and other ancient monuments in the heart of the city. For the intrepid, the hills around the site became an impromptu piste as some took to the snow in skis.
The Norwegian ambassador, Frode Overland Andersen, was among them, and he posted a video of himself on Twitter skiing down a hill alongside his teenage daughter. The envoy said he had put on his skis after a friend in Oslo had challenged him to prove it was possible to ski in the Greek capital.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Severe snowstorm forces Greece to halt Covid vaccination drive | World news