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Greece's COVID-19 Hot Spots: Young Gatherings in Public Squares

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(Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Daskalakis)

ATHENS - The New Democracy government's efforts to keep a second wave of COVID-19 from becoming uncontrollable are being undercut by constant partying and gatherings in public squares, mainly by young revelers.

But the government still hasn't moved to cut off the supply of liquor by closing public kiosks when they can buy beer and booze while at the same time requiring nightclubs and bars to shutter at midnight.

That has seen people buying beer and liquor and drinking and carrying on at major public squares, sometimes leading to confrontations with police and as many don't wear masks as required nor keep safe social distances.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has turned to constant appeals for people to behave responsibly, which hasn't worked, and said unless they do that a second lockdown would have to be imposed.

“The mask is our vaccination until we have a vaccination,” Mitsotakis said in a televised appeal to the public as COVID-19 cases keep climbing into the mid-300's daily and with more people needing ventilators and intensive care.

“Lockdowns mean closed businesses and unemployment,” Mitsotakis said, warning of the damage that would be brought if he orders another shutdown similar to that in March which lasted 10 weeks for some companies.

Anastasia Kotanidou, a Professor of Intensive Care and Pulmonology at the University of Athens and a government adviser, said that 107 intensive care beds in Athens have been set aside for patients with Covid-19.

She told Kathimerini that 40 percent are still available and that another 42 beds would be made available but the Panhellenic Medical Association warned the public health service is “not ready” to deal with the growing numbers.

Inspections by police at squares, where crowds gather after the closure of bars and restaurants at midnight, were  discussed at a Citizens’ Protection Ministry meeting the paper said.

It was decided checks of public squares would be increased but that police won't be aggressive about it without explaining how they would clear people out with just using persuasive language.

Public gatherings are supposed to be limited to nine people, with no explanation why that couldn't spread the virus, and scores and sometimes hundreds of people have gathered in the squares, usually late at night.

“We have no intention of throwing young people out of squares but merely reminding them of their obligation to observe the measures,” a high-ranking ministry official told Kathimerini. 

It wasn't said what would happen if that doesn't work and if police at some point would have to use force to try to prevent the spread of the virus that's especially dangerous in large gatherings, especially where people are drinking in close contact.

There's also worry about overcrowding on the public transport system where people are jammed into subways, trains, railways, trams and buses with the government saying more frequent runs would be made to lessen congestion.

The head of the workers union of the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA), Michalis Siorikis said there are constant arguments between inspectors and people who refuse to wear masks, none of whom were reported detained.

The Managing Director of the Urban Rail Transport Company (STASY), Nikos Hairetas told the paper the biggest problem is on the platforms of central stations such as Syntagma, Omonia and Monastiraki, which are routinely busy. “That’s not something that we can easily find a solution to,” he said and it wasn't mentioned if police or inspectors could be placed outside the entrances to bar entry to those without masks or if any who refuse to wear them have been fined 150 euros ($174.65) under a new law.

Mitsotakis said that, “The weeks ahead will likely determine the months and maybe even years to come, so we need to stay a step ahead of the Coronavirus rather than behind it.”

He added: “Managing the pandemic is not a pendulum that swings from total lockdown to total complacency,” he also said.