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Society

Greek Church COVID-19 Defiance Drives Pandemic Spike Worries

ATHENS – Refusal by the Greek Orthodox Church to obey health protocols aimed at slowing a second wave of COVID-19 came as the Coronavirus is soaring in 10 regions around the country, bringing worry that it could jump further if worshippers return to churches.

The Citizens Protection Ministry and Hellenic Police (ELAS) were concerned after the Church resisted following the measures of a second lockdown and said Epiphany Day services and the Blessing of the Waters would go on as if there were no outbreak, said Kathimerini.

The government said the lockdown was being extended to Jan. 11 but a meeting of the Holy Synod rejected it and said churches would open Jan. 6 with no immediate response from Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The clerics also accused the government in a diversionary attack of providing only a limited number of vaccines and of using the vaccination for “other purposes,” without elaborating although Mitsotakis and 65 other politicians were first in line for it.

“The law cannot be obeyed on a whim, so that whoever disagrees can ignore it. We hope that the Church will grasp the critical nature of circumstances for society, as it has responsibly done thus far,” the government replied.

Ten municipalities, including Perama, Keratsini and Drapetsona, are now under code orange – one level below the highest coronavirus alert level – as health authorities have recorded an increase in infections over the last 24 hours, the paper said, the virus still spreading during a lenient lockdown.

The Greek police said they will turn out even more in force to check for violators not wearing masks, staying safe social distances or out of their homes for non-permissible reasons but it wasn’t clear if the government would take on the Church to try to stop services.

“We have to see what is wrong in each of these areas and adjust our planning,” a senior official at the Ministry of Civil Protection not named told the newspaper,  adding that nursing homes are seeing more cases.

Police officers have intensified checks in Aspropyrgos and Elefsina, as well as neighborhoods such as Menidi, Zefyri, Ilion and Petroupoli in an attempt to get people to obey.

The Holy Synod “does not consent to the government’s measures” and insists on what had been agreed, it said, in reference to the original plan to allow churches to open on key dates during the holidays with a limited congregation.

The Holy Synod accused the government of failing to consult church leaders before extending the lockdown past Jan. 7 or of being given an exemption to allow services after being limited during the holidays.

The National Organization for Public Health (EODY) dispatched a mobile testing unit to Kozani in northern Greece after a renewed church-led outbreak in one of the hardest-hit areas of the country.

EODY’s unit will be conducting hundreds of rapid tests on residents in the broader vicinity of Ardassa and Emborio after several clerics contracted COVID-19 after a ceremony attended by hundreds.

Reports in local media said that five priests tested positive soon after attending the ordainment of a deacon at the Monastery of Agios Kosmas of Aitolia in in the village of Ardassa.

There were hundreds of clerics and local residents attending, almost none of whom were wearing masks or staying safe distances, reports said, the event becoming a super-spreader with no word whether police intervened or fined anyone.

Kozani was one of the first parts of the country to go into lockdown in the fall of 2019 as the Coronavirus has been out of control there all during the ongoing pandemic.

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