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Ignoring COVID-19 Health Regulations Brings Spike in Greece’s Cases

ATHENS — With Greeks essentially ignoring hygiene protocols with the end of a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, health officials are trying to figure out how to enforce them.

The most egregious example was a seaside bar in the Alimos neighborood of Athens that reportedly advertised on social media a giant party that saw hundreds of people turn out in violation of social distancing and other requirements.

It was shown on video and led to the club being closed for 60 days and the owner fined 20,000 euros ($22,622) although the management's lawyer took to TV to complain and say the video was no proof people had gathered, saying the club employs 130 people.

A club on Mykonos had earlier been fined the same amount and also closed for two months but there is widespread defiance of the health measures everywhere, from supermarkets to retail stores to restaurants having too many people too close together.

There were also scenes of overcrowding on ferries that were supposed to run at 50 percent capacity as the country has returned to pre-COVID-19 life, leaving the New Democracy government unable to contain it.

Health officials said the results of the overcrowding will soon be known as it can take 14 days for the virus to spread and there are fears of a resurgence that could kill off any hope of a tourist season with the international airport set to open July 1.

The return of Greeks who were abroad during a long lockdown that began March 23 and slowly began being lifted on May 4 is also posing a problem because they are refusing to obey a 14-day quarantine period, said Kathimerini.

The airport on June 15 will allow arrivals from 29 countries who had similarly good records as Greece in holding down the number of cases and deaths and tests will be conducted only on those from countries with higher rates.

The other big worry is places where people congregate by necessity, especially the public transport system as well as ferries and bars because it would then be essentially impossible to trace and test people who get infected in mass crowds and depart.

Around the country there are pockets showing a spike in the virus after the lockdown worked to hold down the number of cases and fatalities.

Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias and the government’s special adviser on the coronavirus crisis, Sotiris Tsiodras, headed to Xanthi with a team from the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) after 15 cases were found.

That came after the General Secretariat for Civil Protection announced restrictions for  Xanthi and imposing a curfew on the village of Echinos, to where most of the cases had been traced.

Residents of Echinos will be prohibited from leaving their homes between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. until June 17 with primary schools and kindergartens closed and the use of face masks mandatory in public places, as well as the broader region.

Four schools in Xanthi and Drosero in northeastern Greece were  closed for 10 days after a teacher who works at all four tested positive for COVID-19 although he hadn't shown any symptoms.

A second teacher from a school in the municipality of Topeiros has also tested positive for the virus, prompting authorities to close that school too the paper said, as there were 11 more cases on June 10, bringing the number to 3,068 with 183 deaths.

That came after 52 were reported on June 8, setting off an alarm the virus might be coming back hard and health officials scrambling again, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis talking to his Cabinet and epidemiological team about what to do next.

The Panhellenic Medical Association said strict observance of health and safety protocols is the key to protecting the country from the pandemic because there's been any widespread testing and as many as 10 million tourists are expected, less than one-third the 2019 record but too many to be tested.

“If citizens observe measures to guard against the coronavirus, they will set an example to tourists,” the doctors group said in the face of people either not believing it or not caring because the safeguards are not being honored or enforced.

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