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Society

Anxious Greeks, Churches Await COVID-19 Plan for Christmas Gatherings

ATHENS – With a second lockdown having failed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and extended to Jan. 7, 2021, the New Democracy government will reveal details of Christmas gatherings that could be allowed and if churches could open too.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had wanted to avoid a second shock to businesses during the critical Christmas period after so many were hard hit by a first 10-week lockdown in the spring but the rising cases left him no choice.

But his government still is trying to figure out how people could have Christmas dinners together – with a potential likely unenforceable limit of nine people – and if they could travel outside their region of residence to do it.

Also up in the air is whether retail stores, churches and hair salons, among other businesses can operate during the holiday period past New Year's, despite the potential health risk. 

On Antenna TV, government spokesman Stelios Petsas confirmed that restaurants, cafes and bars will stay shut during the extended lockdown through Jan. 7, 2021, while hinting there would be mass exemptions to the lockdown.

While that would mean it's not a lockdown, the government could allow people to shop outside their region if they get permission through a text, a form from the Internet or handwritten.

That system has been in place since the second partial shutdown began Nov. 7, far less restrictive that the first lockdown, which has seen almost normal traffic and people allowed out for missions such as going to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, doctors, open businesses, exercise or walking a pet.

The government's team of scientists and doctors advising protocols was said to be worried that lifting the lockdown for the holidays would lead to yet another resurgence, or third wave, if the Coronavirus spreads after a two-week lag.

A curfew that's in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. could be made shorter although it was put in place to keep people from going out and spreading the virus as the government tries to balance saving lives, saving the economy and placating people.

“Naturally, (curfew) hours will have to be adjusted if retail reopens,” he said. “First because operating hours will be extended to prevent overcrowding and second so that people have enough time to get back home.”

Concerning travel between regions, Petsas said this will likely continue to be prohibited for holidaymakers, but may be allowed for students and people working away from their main area of residence so that they can spend the holidays with their families.

If retail stores open, he suggested that churches would too despite their being a place where people congregate in close proximity which could spread infections and as Church leaders want to give Holy Communion. “You can’t open retail and keep churches closed,” he also said.

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