ATHENS – Unable to convince everyone to wear masks and stay a safe social distance apart, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is trying more of th same but also locking down regions and extending health measures in a bid to hold down a second wave of COVID-19.
The pandemic has been surging toward the 1,000 case-a-day feared benchmark after an early lockdown in March that lasted up to 10 weeks for some businesses held down the number of cases and deaths.
Reluctant to do it again in fear the economy couldn't take a second shock as it struggles to recover after a disappointing shortened summer tourism season, the New Democracy leader is appealing to people to follow health protocols.
While compliance is rising there are still pockets of resistance, primarily among the young who feel the Coronavirus is an old person's disease and they continue to party, go to clubs and gather at night in public squares, police told not to try to break it up but advise them to leave.
Declaring that a rough autumn and winter lie ahead, with COVID-19 colliding with the flu season, Mitsotakis announced yet more measures to a public that has seen so much there was little response even to his TV appearance.
The government imposed a curfew from 12.30 a.m. to 5 a.m. in all areas categorized as at high risk although those who work at night or are responding to an emergency are exempt.
That includes the Attica prefecture where Athens is located as well as the country's second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, where face masks must be work in all public areas, enclosed or open beginning 6 p.m. Oct. 24.
“I want to be clear, the next few months are expected to be difficult,” Mitsotakis said. “As a general lockdown is not among my choices, other measures are needed – smarter ones, more targeted and, ultimately, more effective.”
He said the night curfews are crucial although the government hasn't explained why people going to clubs before they close at midnight aren't susceptible, with health authorities saying those 18-29 are now showing more infections.
“At this time it would be good for you young people to turn your drive into responsibility,” he said, reported Kathimerini. He added that, “There will be less enjoyment, perhaps, for a while, but there will be more health for a long time.”
"Now is not the time for secret parties, when this virus is having a party at the expense of our lives,” he said, reported Reuters.
"The data is clear, the spread of the virus is particularly among young people, and at the times and locations where they gather. But from there on it spreads into family units, affecting older people disproportionately."
He also said inspections, already in the scores of thousands daily, would be further stepped up to find violators, individuals and businesses not obeying the health restrictions, and that employers are encouraged to allow remote working.
Despite the surge and accompanying anxiety, Greece still has far lower numbers than many other European countries where it's almost out of control and major cities such as Paris have gone dark at night with curfews and restrictions.