ATHENS (Reuters) -Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday criticised the slow pace of the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but said Greece would double its inoculation rate in coming weeks and give everyone aged over 60 their first shot by the end of May.
Greece, which coped relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, has tightened restrictions to combat a surge in cases over recent months, with hospitalisations having risen to around 5,000, leaving the health system struggling to cope.
Mitsotakis said bloc-wide purchasing of vaccines by the European Commission had helped smaller European Union states such as Greece.
“But at the same time it failed in getting the necessary quantities and supplying member states promptly,” he said in a speech to parliament.
With the summer tourist season fast approaching, vital for Greece’s economy, the government is counting on a beefed-up testing campaign, including home test kits which health authorities said would start to be distributed to high school students and teachers from next week.
Schools, non-essential shops and restaurants are closed, but authorities plan to allow small retail shops to reopen next week with restrictions and high schools are expected to resume in-person classes later this month.
Greece, with a population of around 10 million, has administered nearly 1.7 million COVID shots so far and will complete another 1.5 million by the end of April. Everyone over 60 should have had at least one shot by the end of May, Mitsotakis said.
He also backed a European Commission call to “use all the legal tools”, including banning exports, to force manufacturers to respect their contractual obligations towards the EU in terms of vaccines supplies.
The Commission has been engaged in a heated row with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, which has delivered only a fraction of the vaccines ordered on time.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Lefteris Papadimas; writing by James MackenzieEditing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)