ATHENS – While Greece hasn't hit a vaccination benchmark needed to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Democracy government is lifting restrictions for public gathering spots for the inoculated while those without shots will be locked out.
A little more than 61 percent of the country's population of 10.7 million has been vaccinated, less than the 70 percent needed to slow the resurging Coronavirus and a persuasion campaign hasn't worked against rabid anti-vaxxers.
To further encourage people to be vaccinated, the government said as of Oct. 9 that the vaccinated will be free to move around even in regions deemed high risk and is ending curfews and music bans at indoor catering and entertainment venues in restricted areas, said Kathimerini.
Across the country, there will be no limit on the number of patrons allowed into entertainment venues that have a vaccinated-only policy and the restriction on social distance will also end. It wasn't said if the requirement applies to performers.
In venues that do not enforce the vaccinated-only policy, distancing and a ban on standing customer will continue but it wasn't said how that would be enforced as it's already largely being ignored.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris, Alternate Minister Mina Gaga and the newly- appointed head of the National Public Health Organization, Professor Theoklis Zaoutis, said there would be a review in 15 days to see how it's working.
The government also will assess limitations imposed in other public spaces and activities with the aim to let the vaccinated return to a near-normal life despite worries about the Delta Variant being so contagious and spread by the unvaccinated.
The idea was met with doubt by some members of the government's advisory panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations on health measures, some of whom reportedly are more skeptical about easing the restrictions.
Those against leniency, the paper said, noted that the pandemic is still lingering with thousands of cases daily, hospitalizations, people on ventilators in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and more deaths.
The idea of offering the vaccinated freedom in entertainment areas, such as restaurants, bars, taverns, concert halls, theaters and sporting events was deemed too risky by some health advisors who said it will be difficult to enforce.
There's also the problem of people obtaining fake vaccination certificates, even from public vaccination centers where a probe is ongoing about a number of fraudulent documents circulated to people who don't want to be vaccinated but want proof they are.
The dissenters said that they believe the policy is wrong and will further spread the virus, but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis keen on accelerating an economic recovery and has made that a priority.
The number of COVID-19 fatalities has surpassed 15,000, showing the pandemic is still deadly even if many people are acting as if it isn't, and are shunning masks and safe social distances.
The easing of the restrictive measures even in regions at the highest alert due to a high number of coronavirus infections was “necessary,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said.
He said that the message sent by curfews and music bans to people who are fully vaccinated was “contradictory,” amid reports those who are inoculated were unhappy they are being held back by anti-vaxxers.
“Those who have been vaccinated must get their lives back,” Oikonomou told broadcaster ANT1. “We must not issue messages that confuse people or are contrary to common sense,” he added, citing as an example a requirement for vaccinated patients to take a rapid test to go to the dentist, now repealed.
Oikonomou said the easing of restrictions “does not mean that we are finished with the coronavirus,” adding that unvaccinated individuals should look at the data of hospitalizations “to be convinced,” even as they aren't.