As Greece gradually eases a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, some shopowners who are reopening ironically said they're also worried that if it's too early and the pandemic returns they will never recover.
"No one would stand this situation again. If this happens again, every shop would close permanently – that's 99.9% certain. Everything would close," Paris Kouklogiannis, owner of a gift shop in Athens told Euronews.
"At this point, we are just steps away from going into life support. We had to pay our rents without having an income. We didn’t know how to cover these expenses. It wasn’t because we didn’t have quality products, but because we were shut down," he said.
That underscored the gravity of the dilemma they are facing: desperately wanting to reopen as they were bleeding cash, and fearful that if they did too soon and COVID-19 came back that it would be the end of them.
The New Democracy government has poured 17.5 billion euros ($18.93 billion) into providing relief for workers temporarily laid-off and for businesses that were shut down when the lockdown was imposed March 23.
Shopping malls and department stores will remain shut across Greece until June 1, but all other retail businesses, including clothing, hardware and beauty product stores, were allowed to reopen May 11 under social distancing rules and limits on customers.
“We want to be and should be optimistic. We hope that people will go out and return to their daily habits,” clothing shop owner Giannis Xenidis, told the news site, but as he quickly added, “We have missed at least half of the season."
Earlier, Greek restaurant owners staged "empty chairs" protests in central Athens and Thessaloniki, saying new social distancing rules will force them to operate so far under capacity – only outside seating for now – that they can't recoup their losses.
While Greece won plaudits for its scientific approach to a lockdown that held down the number of cases and deaths, the tourism sector – the country's biggest revenue engine – is set to take a big hit, as are restaurants and taverns, with bars remaining shut.
The economy that had been beginning to recover faster from a near-decade long crisis that required 326 billion euros ($352.66 billion) in three international bailouts to stave off ruin is likely to shrink as much as 10 percent or more.