Many locals are rushing to pharmacies around the city of Thessaloniki, hoping to find masks through which they think will protect from the novel coronavirus that has been spreading around the world for almost four months.
Many drug-stores in Greece’s second-largest city, however, are out of masks and hand sanitizers, as locals had already invested in them after coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the headlines all over the world in December.
“We don’t have masks,” is one of the most common signboards visible in the city’s many pharmacies.
The fear in the city of almost a million people increased incrementally following the news a 38-year-old Thessaloniki woman was diagnosed as the first coronavirus case in the country on February 26, after she had a trip to Italy, where authorities have confirmed 2,502 cases.
She has shown mild symptoms; low fever and cough, according to the Greek Ministry of Health. Ministry authorities said her symptoms disappeared in her second day at Thessaloniki’s AHEPA University General Hospital, where she has been under quarantine.
The next day her son also tested positive, sparking fear that other students and school staff could have been infected. Local authorities closed the 105th Primary School of Thessaloniki for two weeks.
The first two confirmed cases, the 38-year-old woman and her son, were followed by six more cases in both Thessaloniki and the capital of Athens, bringing the number of people infected in the country to eight.
“We recommend people with symptoms of respiratory infection and a similar clinical picture such as fever, dyspnoea (shortness of breath), coughing, to avoid interaction, and to stay at home.”
Sotiris Tsiodras, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health
A 40-year-old woman who had traveled to Italy tested positive on February 27 and is under quarantine in Attikon University Hospital in Athens.
The next day, a 36-year-old woman, also a traveler to Italy, showed mild symptoms of the virus and was quarantined in the same hospital.
Athens has confirmed a new case of coronavirus, Kathimetini quoted the Health Ministry as saying on Wednesday.
The latest case of COVID-19 involves a middle-aged man who is related to a previously confirmed case that remains in an isolation unit in a hospital.
All eight people, including three men, are under quarantine.
The Municipality of Thessaloniki, along with the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Organization, are trying to keep the citizens alert through posters, detailing the hygiene rules to be followed on public transport and in general.
The posters have been placed on buses and at bus stops around the city.
Locals’ reactions to the virus and warnings by the authorities vary. The virus is not as dangerous as people think, according to Angeliki, a Molecular Biology student.
“It is less dangerous than SARS, which killed many more people. The problem with this virus is that it is more easily transmitted. Also, most people that got infected with Covid-19 show mild symptoms,” she asserts.
She believes that fear is mostly related to the lack of facilities rather than the deaths caused by the disease.
The 27-year-old student still tries to protect herself from the virus by avoiding public transports and reducing her outings.
“I don’t take the bus, and, if I do, I wear a mask. I don’t frequently go to crowded places in the city center, and, of course, I take care of my hygiene a lot,” she told IPA.
Greek authorities postponed or canceled several local and international festivals, celebrations, and events, including the famous Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival.
However, the majority of the locals don’t seem to be overly concerned about COVID-19.
Although Thessaloniki residents have invested in masks, it is rare to see many people wearing masks on public transporters or streets, no matter how crowded they get.
Mostly a few older people wear masks or cover their faces with scarves.
They often end up ordering food or groceries at home instead of going out to buy them in fear of getting infected.
However, the youth is not taking the matter very seriously, according to some local pharmacists.
Instead, many young people are laughing it off through memes on social media.
A meme showing the White Tower, the symbol of the city, with a mask, has widely been circulating on social media among young people.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning this week about the COVID-19 outbreak, which first emerged in December in Wuhan, central China, and has spread to more than 60 countries, killing more than 3,000.
Reporting by Elisa Tsochatzis, editing by Zubeyir Koculu, Giordano Stolley