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Greek Churches to Open Only on Christmas Day and Epiphany with Limits

December 11, 2020

ATHENS — Greek authorities say bookshops and hairdressers can reopen as of next Monday, while all other retail stores, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and cafes will remain shut throughout the Christmas period under the country's second lockdown. 

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Friday that despite five weeks of lockdown measures, coronavirus infections remain high, piling pressure on the country's health system. Intensive care units are at 83% of their capacity nationwide, with the number increasing to 91% in the hard-hit northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest urban center. 

Petsas said a curfew currently in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be reduced by one hour as of Sunday night, when it will start at 10 p.m. every night until Jan. 7. Authorities have no intention of amending this for New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve, he said.

Churches will be allowed to open to the faithful only on Christmas Day and Epiphany on Jan. 6, with limits on the number of people allowed inside according to church size. 

Authorities also announced the softening of a compulsory quarantine of travelers arriving in Greece from Dec. 18, reducing it to three days from the previously announced 10 — which had enraged many Greeks living abroad who hoped to travel home for Christmas. Proof of negative coronavirus tests will still be required for travel to the country.

The quarantine measure had been announced in an effort to prevent Greeks from traveling to winter holiday destinations abroad. Ski resorts in Greece have been ordered shut until Jan. 7.

With a spike in online orders during the lockdown straining delivery services, Petsas said customers will be allowed to physically pick up merchandise they have bought online or by phone through a new system called "clickaway." The goods will be picked up at store entrances with a receipt of online payment, while queues outside stores for pickups must be limited to a maximum of nine people.

Movement outside of people's homes continues to be restricted to only a handful of reasons, with anyone venturing out having to send a text message to authorities or carry a self-declaration. Permitted reasons include exercising or walking a pet, visits to doctors, lawyers, pharmacies and supermarkets, assisting someone in need or for divorced parents to see their children. Visits to bookshops, hairdressers and to pick up online purchases from shops will now be added.

Greece has registered more than 121,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and 3,370 deaths.

By ELENA BECATOROS Associated Press

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