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Village Travel Barred Over Pandemic, Greece Girds for Easter Crush

Αssociated Press

A policeman checks a driver for valid documents at a roadblock in Elefsina toll stations, west of Athens, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – With travel to villages to celebrate Easter barred to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there's still worry in the New Democracy government that Greeks keen to mark the holiday will have big gatherings at home and crowd church celebrations as well.

“Most of our fellow citizens seem to understand the importance of avoiding Easter movement,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “All reacted to the gradual opening of some economic activities with maturity and discipline,” he added.

While cases have alternated between subsiding and rising, the government is pinning its hopes on a speeding vaccination program, self-tests and that people allowed out under an eased lockdown will keep safe social distances.

With reports some nearly 12,000 people escaped cities for their villages, either through allowed exemptions or getting around police checks, the government is anxious that could see others try for a last-minute Easter rush, said Kathimerini.

There's also worry, after scenes showing crowds massing outside churches, that the Epitaphios commemoration on Good Friday as well as the celebration of Resurrection the next night – at 9 p.m. instead of midnight, will draw hordes.

While inter-regional travel isn't allowed, short-term bookings of holiday homes at the capital area’s seaside resorts have soared, raising fears of large crowds in those areas as people want to get away from lockdown fatigue.

Professor Nikos Sipsas, a member of the government's advisory panel of doctors and scientists, said he thinks the pandemic will be over by the summer of 2022 but that there could be a fourth wave in January then, but that COVID-19 will likely be a season illness requiring vaccinations or be eradicated.

Greek police set up checkpoints along highways leading out of the Greek capital to enforce a travel ban tightened for Orthodox Easter on May 2. Easter holidays are often celebrated with relatives outside Athens and other cities, but the government said COVID-19 infection levels remain too high to allow free travel.