ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church Thursday urged members of its congregations to attend services with vaccination or test certificates, as the country’s daily number of confirmed new infections hit a record high for the second time in a few days.
The governing Holy Synod of the church made the recommendations in a directive sent to all parishes in the country. Church officials did not say whether implementation of the guidelines was obligatory.
Religious services were canceled for several months due to the pandemic last year, but the government has refused to mandate vaccinations or tests for church attendance in 2021 — despite having introduced tough access restrictions for other indoor venues including movie theaters and restaurants.
Church leaders routinely urge Greeks to follow medical guidelines but have been reluctant to respond to bishops who are openly skeptical about vaccination or who have even urged public defiance of safety restrictions.
On the other hand, on Wednesday a bishop who presides over parishes on the island of Lesbos, in the eastern Aegean Sea, signed an order to suspend unvaccinated clergymen without pay, starting next week.
Greek public health authorities on Thursday reported 6,808 new COVID-19 infections, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic. The previous record high was on Tuesday, with 6,700 infections.
The surge was attributed in part to increased testing levels but health officials said the situation was deteriorating, with average occupancy at ICU wards used for COVID-19 treatment now rising to 87% from 70% three weeks ago.
“The message from today is that we have a lot of new cases and the more cases we have the harder hospital treatment gets,” Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga said. “No health system in any country in the world has (resources) that are inexhaustible.”
The pandemic has killed more than 16,000 people in Greece, a country of about 11 million. Nearly 62% of the total population is currently fully vaccinated, a little below the European Union average.