The number of people going to the hospital with respiratory problems has risen by 10 percent, but Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis says this is normal during the winter season. Doctors warn of the high health risks and even the government advised the public to avoid outdoor exercise and try to stay at home.
Greece, which takes over the rotating EU Presidency on Wednesday, could do without the negative publicity.
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The government is trying to curb the issue; on Saturday it announced it would offer a 70 percent discount on electricity on days when smog levels are high for consumers who use less than 2000 KW per four months. The measure is meant to encourage the use of electrical heating appliances, instead of fireplaces. The discounts will take a 40 million euro ($54.4 million) bite out of the government's 2014 budget. The news followed an extension of heating fuel subsidies, first introduced last year, to cover more families and offer free electricity to the poor for two days whenever when air pollution exceeds the dangerous level of 150 mg/m3.
Dimitris, who lost his job as a German language teacher in 2010 and earns an average of 300 euro a month freelancing, said given his income and the current fuel prices, he would never pay for heating oil. "I opt for cheaper solutions, fireplace or even electric heating devices that come at a lower cost of 25 cents per hour", he said.
With unemployment in Greece at record highs of around 28 percent, he is far from alone.
Heating oil orders have decreased by 60 percent since 2012. According to finance minister Yannis Stournaras, only eleven percent of that is due to the higher tax imposed. "The rest is due to the recession, milder weather conditions and the government's efforts to combat smuggling", Stournaras said at a press conference discussing high levels of smog.
The government tax revenue target from heating oil fell short by 5 percent or 353 million euro in 2013.
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