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Greeks Gird Again for the New Abnormal: Second COVID-19 Lockdown

ATHENS – A lot of businesses won't be left standing when it's over but Greece on Nov. 7 begins a second lockdown – this one for three weeks at least – with the aim of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and trying to save a holiday shopping season crucial for the economy.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, applauded for a first lockdown in March that lasted up to 10 weeks and helped hold down the number of cases and deaths, said the soaring numbers of infections gave him no option but to do it again.

That came after another record number of cases, some 2,917 that brought the total to 49,807, certain to pass 50,000 and with 29 deaths raising that grim toll to 702 and rising.

“I chose to take drastic measures sooner rather than later,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation after his government had given conflicting messages that there would be another shutdown.

The aim, Mitsotakis said, is “to return to some semblance of normality in December,” although many restaurants already have said they won't open even for takeout or delivery until the lockdown lifts.

The decision, he said, had been driven by an “exponential increase” in cases over the past week and fears about the pressure on the health system becoming “unbearable,” cases jumping despite toughened health protocols.

The government had been unable to convince enough people, especially the young, to wear masks or stay safe social distances of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart from each other despite scores of thousands of police checks.

There was a 20 percent increase in infections nationwide within five days and an increase of 60 percent in patients on ventilators, said the government’s chief epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras, who joined Mitsotakis in answering reporters questions.

Tsiodras admitted that experts were “surprised by the sudden increase and the aggressiveness of the virus,” despite warnings from some on his team and the number of cases rapidly rising daily.

An additional 300 doctors are being assigned to existing ICUs. Meanwhile, there is a plan to enlist the help of private clinics if serious infections escalate with the government earlier saying it would commandeer them if needed.

There will be exceptions to people being required to stay home, including being allowed to go to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, doctors and by appointment for opticians and optometrists.

They will also be allowed to use street kiosks, walk for exercise, go to some stores being allowed to stay open, funerals, help someone in need or take children to and from school, with elementary schools and kindergartens still open. High school students will take distance learning classes.

But all people out will be required to get permission from the government on their mobile phones in a text message by sending a message to the toll-free number 13033 that was in use in the first lockdown, download a form from the Internet or write one out by hand stating the reason for leaving home.

Although travelers from other countries have brought infections with them and are difficult to track and trace as there is no universal method of doing so on mobile phones, the borders will stay open although anyone arriving from abroad will have to present proof of a negative test, said Kathimerini.

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