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Mitsotakis Ready to Reveal COVID-19 Lockdown Phase-Out

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Photo by Eurokinissi)

ATHENS - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to go on national television on Apri 28 to announce details of a three-pronged plan to ease lockdown restrictions imposed March 23 that closed non-essential businesses and put the economy in a tailspin.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas told SKAI TV that there will be a gradual easing and staggered reopenings, not a mass lifting of the lockdown that required people to stay at home except for permissible missions to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, hospitals, doctors, hospitals, businesses allowed open or for exercise or walking pets.

He said the phasing out would start early in May and go through the end of June with hotels desperate to salvage something of the summer season and tourism set for losses as high as 70 percent for the country’s biggest revenue engine.

From May 4 or 5, people will be able to go out without sending an SMS message to a government number or having with them a written document from the Internet or by their own hand, citing their reason for leaving the house, he said.

It wasn’t said yet whether people will be allowed, however, to leave the neighborhoods in which they live or travel to an island or village and whether the advent of warmer weather would make people pent up with cabin fever rush to the sea or get out of cities.

The tighter restrictions will stay in place through the May Day holiday weekend that begins the month, he said, and for some days after that while schools will start to reopen on May 4 or May 5 but department stores will stay closed.

Churches will reopen at a subsequent phase he said, without elaborating, adding that the general secretariat for sports has drawn up a program for sporting activities which had been barred, and with parks and playgrounds shut during the lockdown.

The easing will come because Greece imposed a lockdown before even a single death had been recorded and it worked to hold down the number of cases and fatalities and drew plaudits for Mitsotakis for listening to doctors and scientists, unlike US President Donald Trump who turned his response into what critics said was a political sideshow.

Mitsotakis will unveil a three-phase scheme that aims to restore a significant section of the country’s social and economic life by the end of June but it will be dependent on the virus not resurging and business will have to keep social distancing guidelines limiting the number of customers and clients and how far apart they must be from each other.

The three phases are to begin in early May, late May and mid-June, with rising temperatures in summer expected to slow the pandemic.

The first phase will involve the opening of small retail stores and hair salons. In parallel, authorities may abolish part or all of the system whereby citizens are obliged to send an SMS to a government number, citing their reason for leaving the house.

The reopening of cafes and restaurants will come later although those types of businesses are frantic to get going again, especially during spring when people want to get out of their homes and socialize, if even from a safe distance.

Restaurants, bars, taverns, coffee shops and eating places will still not be allowed to have seating indoors, only outside, with tables further apart and staff trying not to commingle with customers although it will be impossible for them to stay the recommended distance of 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) away from tables they are serving.

A full reopening of all schools is being carefully considered as it must coincide with a return to work for parents as families often rely on grandparents - the most vulnerable to the virus - often take their grandchildren to schools or care for them during the day as well.

Commuters who aren’t wary of getting on buses, subways, rail lines or the metro may be required to use face masks, which had long been in short supply after being cleaned out of stores and pharmacies, and there could be a limit on people using public transportation, increased during rush hours.

Greece is hoping to secure around 20 billion euros ($21.68 billion) in European Union funding to help deal with the devastating effect on an economy that was beginning to recover faster from a near decade-long crisis that came with brutal austerity measures attached to three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($353.45 billion.)

During a teleconference with EU leaders on April 23, Mitsotakis underlined the need to  establish a “huge” recovery fund and called for the provision of grants rather than loans to EU member-states.