|Thursday, 19 January 2017|
Athens Macedonian News Agency: News in English, 17-01-08
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Polakis: Novartis scandal on a par with that involving SiemensThe Novartis scandal, which he described as comparable to the Siemens' kickbacks scandal, and the prospects for improving Greece's ailing state health system were the topics that Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis mainly addressed in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) released on Sunday.
Polakis said that Greeks continued to have faith in the national health system in spite of the problems in health care. Though far from perfect, he said this now presented the image of a system "that is beginning to recover after many years of understaffing, underfunding and deliberate destruction."
"Clearly we are not satisfied overall but we are satisfied that we have balanced a system that was in danger of collapse," he added, noting that the horizontal cuts imposed in the years prior to SYRIZA's arrival had "not touched one hair" of a system that generated overpricing, graft and corruption.
"The difference in spending between what New Democracy had signed and what we negotiated is close to one billion euros more money for state hospitals. If you do not make a political choice to give money to a system that is collapsing than you're not doing anything," Polakis added.
On the scandal surrounding the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, Polakis said that this involved more than 4.0 billion euros of illegal money. He noted that "penal, political and administrative" responsibilities would be uncovered in the case concerning how the administrative mechanism, doctors and the political leadership had handled a specific portion of pharmaceutical spending and how the company had distributed drugs "while violating protocols and good practice".
The minister blamed the slow procedures of the Supreme Council for Staff Selection (ASEP) for delays in hiring the additional staff announced, noting that the "ASEP system was set up in order to stall and delay". He pointed out, however, that 3,830 people had been hired since October 2015 when the first recruitment drive was announced, while another 3,100 were in the process of being hired and thousands more hirings were planned in the months ahead.
Lastly, the minister appeared confident that Greece was ready to face the peak of the flu season, noting that there were now 554 functioning ICU beds, compared with 438 last year, with another 100 ICU beds available in the private sector. The Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP) was now expected to advertise for additional positions that would allow an addition 40-45 beds in ICUs to open, he added.
 Cyprus President and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to meet in Geneva on SundayNICOSIA (ANA/ A. Viketos) Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades departed for Geneva on Sunday, ahead of a crucial round of negotiations on the Cyprus issue beginning on Monday. The president was accompanied by the negotiating team for the talks, the foreign minister, the government spokesman and deputy government spokesman and other officials, as well as his wife.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci also departed for Geneva, changing plans to travel via Istanbul due to poor weather conditions in Turkey.
Anastasiades and Akinci are to have a meeting on Sunday night, in the presence of UN special envoy for Cyprus Espen Barth Eide, to discuss the process of their three-day talks, ahead of an international conference on the security aspects on Thursday.
The Cyprus president also expects to talk on the phone with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
 Problems continue as Greece remains in the grip of the cold frontGreece's civil protection mechanisms remained fully mobilised on Sunday to cope with the effects of a severe cold front sweeping across Europe and into the country from the north, bringing snow, ice and very low temperatures. State services struggled to keep major highways open and advised the public to avoid unnecessary movement due to the danger of ice on the roads.
"We are on standby to deal with the bad weather and our goal is to do everything humanly possible to avoid problems," Civil Protection General Secretary Yiannis Kapakis told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA). "As long as the bad weather continues, the entire civil protection mechanism and all forces involved will remain on standby," he added.
According to Kapakis, all the problems that have arisen up to this point have been dealt with and virtually the entire state mechanism and all the means at its disposal had been mobilised.
Among the areas hardest hit were the Greek islands: a state of emergency was declared on the island of Skopelos due to the heavy snow overnight, while the same is expected for nearby Alonissos. Snow even settled as far south as Crete, where authorities were struggling to keep roads open on Sunday. According to reports the situation in Alonissos is even worse than on Skopelos, with 1.5-2.0 metres of snow, roads cut off, no electricity and therefore no phones or water, since the pumps were unable to function.
Problems were also reported on the island of Evia, near the Karystos and Kymi areas, where several areas are cut off and the snow reached up to 2.0 metres deep.
Commenting on the closure of the Patras-Corinth national highway from Saturday afternoon until the early hours of Sunday, Kapakis said this was due to the heavy snow and the roadworks in those locations that led to delays.
Despite improved weather and some sunshine on Sunday, temperatures remained bitterly cold and stayed below freezing throughout all areas of northern Greece, plunging as low as -19C in Florina and -16C in Nevrokopi in Drama. The bitter cold is forecast to continue in the next few days.
In Attica, the road to the summit of Mount Parnitha was closed due to the snow, as was the Penteli peripheral road from the 414 Military Hospital to Agios Petros and Fylis Avenue from Kleiston Monastery to Dervenochoria. Authorities have also banned trucks from using the old Elefsina-Thiva road after Vilia and advised all other vehicles to use snow chains. These are also necessary in Ippokratios Politia and Agiou Merkouriou Road.
Authorities in other areas of Greece are struggling to keep major roadways open but snow chains are necessary in several areas and some roads have been closed due to icy conditions, especially on higher ground.
Several regions throughout the country announced that schools in their area will not open as planned on Monday due to the weather, especially in northern Greece and in higher altitudes.
Another casualty of the bad weather was the PPC's power station in Kardia, which left the entire town of Ptolemaida without heating. The hot steam from the power plant is used to provide heating for 14,000 homes in Ptolemaida but the freezing -17C temperatures affected the functioning of two medium and high-voltage switches outside the plant, causing two of the units to fail.
Many other areas, including Thessaloniki, were left without water for a second consecutive day as water pipes froze and burst and meters seized due to the low temperatures.
 Custody of Pola Roupa's son given to his grandmotherA public prosecutor for juveniles on Sunday ordered that custody of Pola Roupa's six-year-old son with fellow convicted terrorist Nikos Maziotis should be given to the boy's grandmother. After studying the expert reports, the prosecutor ruled that Roupa's mother should have sole custody and not joint custody with Roupa's sister, as the prisoner had originally requested.
Earlier on Sunday, recaptured convicted terrorist Pola Roupa and her 25-year-old suspected accomplice Konstantina Athanasopoulou, both jailed on remand for a fresh set of terrorism-related charges, were taken to Sotiria Hospital in Athens after they complained of feeling weak and unwell.
The two women, who arrived with a strong police escort, will undergo a series of medical tests as a precaution, so that doctors can determine their state of health.
 Top official in Greek athletics federation takes own lifeOne of the foremost figures in Greek athletics, the vice president of the Hellenic Athletics Federation (SEGAS) Yiannis Stamatopoulos, took his own life by jumping off the fifth storey of an apartment building in Athens on Sunday. Stamatopoulos was a member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee and president of the Athens Marathon organising committee.
SEGAS and the HOC issued announcements expressing their deep anguish over Stamatopoulos' death, noting that he had devoted his life to Greek athletics and to its athletes.
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