ATHENS, Greece — The health authorities in Greece have imposed restrictions on masks and respirators after a growing body of evidence showed that use of masks in panic sales was contributing to the spread of contagious viruses in Greece.
The Health Ministry said it is now monitoring health workers’ use of respiratory protection equipment in the case of multiple viruses, rather than just influenza as before.
“We have addressed the matter of masks, respirators and the way they’re being used after having received more information that is contrary to the hypothesis that bans on masks and respirators constituted a public health measure,” said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of Greece’s ERT state broadcaster.
Five European health ministers met in Athens this week to discuss the growing crisis. At a news conference after the talks, European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis called for immediate steps, including ensuring that masks and other items like thermometers could be bought over the counter in Greece, subject to quarantine.
More than 2,000 people have now died from influenza and related illnesses in Greece this year, including another 103 dead in the past three days.
The harsh weather in recent weeks combined with the spread of influenza viruses has complicated efforts to contain outbreaks. The harsh winter coming up will make it difficult for health workers and hospitals to prepare for emergencies.
One of the pressing problems is the shortage of masks in Greek hospitals. At least half of hospitals have run out, with some hospital patients wearing face masks provided by doctors.
In an effort to keep mask supplies in hospitals, hospitals in Greece have resorted to charging up to €40 ($44) for masks and helmets. That is a substantial sum for patients and hospitals.
Health experts in Greece say there needs to be more education about what masks and masks that aren’t actually needed can do. The national vaccination programme of 1998, introduced after a deadly respiratory flu outbreak, was meant to create an artificial scarcity in masks.
In addition, Greece does not generally use repellent masks which also provide protection, but are not as effective in the harsh winter months as face masks.
Health officials say there are other safeguards besides masks: “Teaching children about the importance of getting vaccinated before and during the flu season; not sharing personal items like coughs and coughs with strangers; and practicing good hygiene.”