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Greek military setting up field hospital for COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus Pandemic

Medical staff conducts a rapid COVID test on an elderly woman in Athens, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Greece has seen a major resurgence of the virus after the summer, leading to dozens of deaths each day and thousands of new infections. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
By COSTAS KANTOURIS Associated Press

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greece’s armed forces are setting up a field hospital with more than 50 beds in the northern city of Thessaloniki as part of plans to tackle a surge in the number of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, a senior defense ministry official said on Monday.

Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis, who visited the site outside the city’s military hospital, said the field hospital would be ready by the end of the week.

“This mobile hospital is being created in case of a particularly difficult situation and as part of the planning that the armed forces always have,” Stefanis said, adding that the military always plans based on the worst possible scenario.

The field hospital is to have 50 normal beds for coronavirus patients and two intensive care unit beds.

Thessaloniki has been at the center of a spike in coronavirus cases in Greece, with its hospitals and medical staff coming under severe pressure. On Friday, health authorities appropriated two private clinics in the city and their staff to be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“After the rapid increase in admissions, both the hospitals in Thessaloniki and their medical staff have reached their limits,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Monday.

According to figures released by health authorities on Friday, only 4% of ICU beds dedicated to the treatment of coronavirus patients in Thessaloniki were still available, with 210 of the 218 already occupied.

On Monday, authorities said the nationwide occupancy of COVID-19 ICU beds was 86% — and roughly 99% for northern Greece.

“We issue this final plea: Help us so we can help you. One in two people in the ICU will die — understand this,” said Panagiotis Touchtidis, head of the staff association at Thessaloniki’s Papageorgiou Hospital.

Touchtidis appealed to people he said displayed a lackadaisical attitude toward mask-wearing to strictly adhere to the rules.

“Some people still think this is the flu. But the flu never killed 110 people in a day, especially before winter sets in. Unfortunately, we will reach the point where, unless people observe the (restriction) measures, we will not be able to intubate people because there will be no respirators available,” he added.

Greece has seen daily COVID-19 deaths spiral to above 100 over the weekend, with 108 people dying on Saturday and another 103 on Sunday.

On Monday, another 84 people died and 1,388 new infections were recorded. The country of about 11 million people now has more than 92,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,714 deaths — more than 1,000 of which were over the past month — since the start of the pandemic. A second nationwide lockdown was imposed earlier this month until the end of November, but the restrictions are widely expected to be extended into December in some form.
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Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.