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Economy

Greece’s Restaurants, Cafes Open to COVID-19 Fear, Empty Tables Far Apart

ATHENS – Even being mostly locked in their homes for weeks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus – restrictions being gradually lifted with stores opening – wasn’t enough to convince Greeks to eat out again, restaurants finding few customers for now.

Eateries were allowed to open on May 25 in the fourth straight week of relaxing the measures, but had to operate under strict hygiene protocols to serve only outside and with tables and chairs far apart.

People apparently weren’t convinced it’s yet safe though because scenes showed empty tables and seats at many places even in popular areas and a survey found that two-thirds of consumers say they won’t visit any restaurants – for the rest of the year.

That prospect, along with a finding that a third of Greeks are still afraid to take vacations this year could put a big dent in the New Democracy government’s hopes for both domestic tourism and foreign travelers to bring a boost to a cash-starved economy.

The survey by the Research Institute of Retail Consumer Goods (IELKA) showed tavernas and restaurants will have a hard time making up for losses for the lockdown that began for them on March 14.

Half of the 1,050 respondents said they’re still too scared of the virus resuming to take the chance on going out to eat, while 17% said they would never visit a restaurant ever again and only 33 percent said they would this year, reported Kathimerini.

If that happens, there are growing fears some businesses and restaurants will shut for good, bringing back recent memories of the country’s austerity years and an economic crisis that saw empty storefronts across the capital and around the country.

On May 25, the first day they reopened, most restaurants were eerily quiet, Giorgos Kavvathas, the head of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE) told the paper.

The next day he said turnover was down 95 percent compared to a normal day before the COVID-19 virus hit and restaurants closed although cafes had about 50 percent business, grim numbers he said could lead to 33 percent of food services closing down.

The IELKA survey further showed that less than a quarter of Greeks (24%) will take their usual number of holidays this year, while another 17% said they would go on more limited holidays than in previous years.

Three in 10 respondents (30%) said they do not think they can go on holiday at all this year, including 8% that think they may not be able to take a holiday in 2021 either.

Despite requirements for social distancing and other health protocols, 28% of consumers have stopped wearing face masks when going into shops, but 41% say they will not stop at all within 2020. One in three also said they will continue to wear plastic gloves when shopping in 2021 too, an indicator of the long-lasting fear the virus has brought.

People are supposed to stay 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart while restaurant and cafe chairs are required to be at least 70 centimeters (27.55 inches) apart with no indicator how that could be enforced everywhere for now.

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