ATHENS – Taking a risk it will work, Greece’s New Democracy moved to allow conditional opening of most retail stores and allow some movement during a quasi-lockdown that saw COVID-19 rise, people ignoring health measures.
The partial lifting came in the face of record numbers of cases, deaths and people on ventilators in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICU’s,) the government essentially admitting it can’t enforce the restrictions.
Speaking at a Health Ministry briefing, Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias said retail shops — except department stores and malls — will be allowed to reopen on April 5.
The recent measure restricting exercise to any location people could either walk or cycle to was also lifted, with Hardalias saying that driving between municipalities would be allowed on weekends.
Exercise with a maximum of three people or one family group will be allowed as well, as had been previously done but created a loophole that saw people use that as an excuse to get out for almost any reason, crowds gathering.
Authorities said they were relaxing the lockdown measures in recognition of the strain long-running restrictions were placing on the population creating a so-called “lockdown fatigue” with people going out despite the pandemic.
“We know there is fatigue and tiredness,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said. “We are talking about small breathers for society,” ironic given that the Coronavirus has put so many people on ventilators and losing their lives.
Despite the measures – which are mostly the same on paper as those imposed during Greece’s first lockdown at the pandemic’s start last March , compliance has been far more lax this time, and has waned significantly as the weeks turned to months of restrictions.
There was even a riot against alleged police brutality in the neighborhood of Nea Smyrni, sparked by police trying to issue fines of 300 euros ($352) for people gathering in a square which wasn't allowed.
Hardalias said the new measures, which include limits on the number of people allowed inside shops, would be strictly monitored without explaining how that could happen unless police check every shop all the time.
“Given the fatigue after a year of a tough battle, the new mix of measures … will give a greater degree … of freedom which in turn will help in the better implementation of the protective measures and we believe will limit” events considered high-risk for transmission such as parties and gatherings in homes – which are banned but widespread.
Greece has been under lockdown-type restrictions since Nov. 7, 2020, heading into a six month, putting many businesses – especially bars, restaurants, taverns and caterers still not allowed to operate – on the brink of extinction.
Many intensive care units are already beyond capacity, and Kikilias said more public hospitals were becoming COVID-19 facilities although private hospitals largely still aren't being used yet.
Nikos Hardalias said stores will operate with the previously used click-and-collect model or even allowing customers inside stores using the click-in-shop system (shopping by appointment) to limit queues and in-store shopping limited to three hours, no word how that would be enforced either.
Hardalias said the loosening of some restrictions will “provide some breaths of freedom that will limit the super spreading clusters.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)