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Society

Back to Class for Greece’s Students with COVID-19 Self-Tests

ATHENS – Joining high school seniors who had already returned, the rest of Greece's students went back to class May 10, those who presented self-tests showing they are free of COVID-19.

More than 1.1 million pupils and 127,300 teachers were in classrooms again as primary and secondary education resumed, although there's been resistance from some parents and teachers against the self-tests. Lyceum (upper high school) pupils had already returned to school before the Easter holidays.

The New Democracy government said teachers who won't comply faces penalties ranging from reprimands to pay cuts to being fired, which could be difficult as it's almost impossible to dismiss public workers protected by unions.

Free testing kits were being distributed by pharmacies across the country to educators and pupils who are registered on the government’s database with their or their parents’ AMKA social security number for testing up to 24 hours before attending classes, said Kathimerini.

The result of the test must be posted on the self-testing.gov.gr platform, which generates a note of clearance allowing attendance if the test is negative, otherwise giving instructions for another test at a public medical center.

Foreign nationals must be assigned a temporary AMKA for use with the system and kindergartens won't open until May 17 and no word on whether or when day care centers can start operation again yet.

Giorgos Papanikolaou, mayor of the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada, said schools had been preparing to welcome students back and were completely ready. “Since the beginning of the school year in all of the schools in our city we have had temperature reading machines, medical supplies, double and triple shifts for cleaning staff,” he said. “Whatever is needed, we stand by the side of the educational community, the students, the parents, the teachers.”

Courts also restarted many of their activities, with civil courts reopening to all cases and criminal courts now hearing cases involving defendants already in custody and any cases reaching the statute of limitations by the end of next year.

Long lines developed outside the courthouse in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Monday morning as lawyers, witnesses, defendants and court staff arrived for their cases. Limits have been placed on the number of people inside each courtroom, although in large cases with multiple defendants, the courts struggled to adhere to the restrictions.

Greece has been under coronavirus-related restrictions since early November, but has gradually begun easing the measures as it gears up for the vital summer tourist season. Restaurants, bars and cafes opened last week for outdoor seated service for the first time since November, while retail stores have also reopened on an appointment basis.

The gradual reopening comes despite new infections and COVID-19 deaths remaining high, straining Greece’s health system and putting intensive care units near capacity. As of Sunday the country of nearly 11 million people has 362,000 confirmed cases and just over 11,000 deaths.

The government has announced that domestic travel between regions will restart at the end of this week, when museums will also reopen, while open-air movie theaters reopen next week.

“On May 14, an extremely important step will be taken, both for society and for the economy, with the opening of the tourism sector and the resumption of domestic regional travel,” government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said Monday.

“The resumption of economic and social activities will be done gradually, carefully, with strict surveillance of individual and collective defense measures, as the virus remains very much among us,” she added.

The tourism industry is a major revenue source for Greece, and the government has been hoping international visitors will help boost state coffers and bolster an economy still suffering the aftermath of a decade-long financial crisis that saw the country’s gross domestic product shrink by a quarter.

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