ATHENS – Closed more than half the previous 12 months under lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 – with negligible results under vaccinations began – bars and restaurants in Greece reopened May 3 but only for outdoor service.
The move was also designed to provide an incentive for tourists to come, those from the United States and a handful of select other countries already allowed if they have been vaccinated or show a negative Coronavirus test.
With the general opening to safe tourists coming May 15, the New Democracy government is resting its hopes that visitors will return and spend big, but earlier reports said they were reluctant if they’d be confined to hotels and not able to go out to eat to see attractions, outdoor archaeological sites opening.
There will still be health restrictions in place for the restaurants, with distanced tables and only six customers per table allowed to prevent close contact, the reason why music isn’t allowed yet at eateries too.
Self-testing for COVID-19 is also required for workers who must wear masks and the businesses must close by 10:45 p.m. because of an 11 p.m. curfew but the government said no one leaving a restaurant will be fined for missing it.
is compulsory for workers who also have to wear a mask.
The reopening comes too late for many restaurants that didn’t make it, unable to sustain themselves during the long pandemic even with government aid, relying on take out and delivery to try to make some money.
The reopening comes the day after Easter, when people were allowed to attend services and a message of hope – mixed with caution – was being brought by the government’s advisory panel of doctors and scientists.
While the pandemic is far from being defeated, an escalating vaccination program is beginning to show results and analyses of wastewater in Athens and Thessaloniki is showing cases stabilizing.
But the number of deaths – mainly the elderly who weren’t vaccinated – and patients in critical care in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) that are near capacity continues to worry at the same time.
But there’s new optimism only weeks after dire warnings from restaurant owners that the shroud of the pandemic would bury many of them for good unless they were allowed to open again soon.
In February, Greek restaurant and cafe owners pleaded for additional government support to protect livelihoods and jobs after months of crippling restrictions on their businesses, the Reuters news agency then reported.
Some 80,000 restaurants and cafes in Greece, employing about 350,000 people, closed in September, 2020, after an earlier lockdown, and had been allowed to offer only delivery and take away services since.
“I can’t go on, we can’t go on,” cafe owner Dimitris Katsaros, 43, told the news agency of his desperate and frustrating plight as many people afraid of COVID-19 being on packaging won't even order take out for now.
“If the shop doesn’t operate we can’t eat, and we do not have 10-20,000 euros stashed away in savings and able to feed ourselves at the same time. If the shop is not operating then that is the end,” he lamented.
At that time, to no avail, many restaurant and cafe owners collected the keys of their businesses and dropped them in boxes set up at a central Athens square and in other Greek cities and said they would give them to Mitsotakis in protest and desperation.
“With current government measures, 45 percent of businesses say they won’t be able to open again,” said Giannis Chatzitheodosiou, President of the Athens Chamber of Tradesmen before the New Hope emerged, if not borne out yet.