ATHENS – While opening to tourists, Greece won’t allow people to travel to their villages to celebrate Easter after analysts saw a jump in the COVID-19 viral load in wastewater in the capital, indicating a coming bump in cases.
While the Church of Greece will be allowed to hold services, with restrictions, Greeks had been hoping that an already eased lenient lockdown that let businesses open would let them travel to celebrate Easter on May 2.
But health experts said that mass public gatherings and wild parties, mostly by the young, in city squares in Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras, the country’s three biggest cities, likely sparked a surge after cases had been held down.
The government will limit Easter inter-regional travel to a few select people and groups, including workers whose jobs take them there, and only if they have a certificate from their employer. Self-employed professionals will also have to present documentation, said Kathimerini.
Travel will also be allowed for health reasons, with medical document proof and movement is also being allowed to attend funerals and for divorced or separated parents whose children live in another prefecture.
Government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni confirmed that the government intends to propose a continued ban on travel from region to region during the Easter holiday, in an interview with Skai TV on Wednesday.
"We will wait for the Committee's recommendation. The government's position is to not allow travel from region to region. We must not risk the transfer of viral load from areas that are high to others with a low viral load," Peloni said.
She said that announcements to this effect might be made as early as Wednesday afternoon.
Regarding the opening of restaurants, cafes and bars, she reiterated that the government and experts discussing a reopening with tables outdoors only, while she described self tests as an important tool in the fight against the pandemic.
Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been trying to balance saving lives against restarting an economy crushed by lockdowns that kept most businesses closed half the previous year.
There were worries that allowing people to travel during Holy Week and through Easter would jeopardize the May 14 opening of the country to tourists who are vaccinated or have negative tests for the Coronavirus.
The plan now, the paper said, is to allow a gradual further opening of more sectors after Easter, including restaurants, bars and taverns on the edge of going under and trying to survive on take-out and delivery services only.
The deciding factor was a 171 percent soaring in the already high viral load in the wastewater in Athens and the surrounding Attica prefecture which holds nearly half the country’s population of 10.7 million people.
Similar spikes were also observed on the island of Crete, with the town of Rethymno registering a 120 percent increase while the figure in Agios Nikolaos was up by an astounding 360 percent.
The government admitted it is essentially powerless to stop mass public gatherings and the parties in city squares that have seen thousands of people gather, many without masks, and could be superspreader events.
While a vaccination program is being accelerated, the delivery of self-test kits for pharmacies, that were supposed to be free and available weekly, have been delayed and most people must pay for them, further hampering the scheme.
The news came as there were 3,789 cases on April 20 and 87 deaths, bringing the totals during the more than year-long pandemic to 320,629 cases and 9,627 fatalities – one an hour.
Health officials remain alarmed about the growing number of people in critical care on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU’s) now at 847 and showing no signs of declining, another critical factor in barring Easter travel.