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Italy Shutdown Pushes Greece to Tighten Coronavirus Measures

March 12, 2020

ATHENS – The soaring number of cases and deaths in Italy has led Greece to step up measures to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus that had infected 89 people with fears it could rise and also undercut hopes of another record tourism season.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due to unveil more restrictions after his New Democracy government had put in place a contingency plan to corral public gatherings and cancelled conferences and shut down schools for at least two weeks ahead of Easter.

Health officials were said to be especially anxious about five new cases, including that of shipping magnate Vangelis Marinakis, who also owns the Olympiakos soccer team as well as Nottingham Forest in the English league. He put himself in self-isolation.

Another of the new cases was in a patient who had been to London recently, said Kathimerini in a feature about the phenomenon and fears surrounding it and as the government is trying to assess the economic fallout.

Health experts said they expect a spike in infections over the coming three to four weeks before a lull in the summer due to the onset of spring in May, and its reappearance in October to coincide with the start of the flu season, bringing double jeopardy.

Greek Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said all schools and universities would shut down for 14 days, including kindergartens while officials were said to be thinking about deferring university entrance exams from June to July or even September, just ahead of the start of the new college year.

The decision affects about 1.5 million students and 140,000 teachers and professors working at nurseries, schools and universities – not including those employed at other educational institutions, such as cramming schools prepping students for exams.

Kikilias said special measures would be taken to help working parents and businesses affected by the closures. The Labor, Interior and Finance ministries are working on a “mixed system” of leave to lessen the loss of working hours, giving working parents 15 days off.

The Education Ministry is working on plans to make up the lost teaching hours, if possible, depending on how long schools are shut down and with the two-week Easter vacation looming in April, which could be shortened.

“In any case, our intention is to operate distance learning to maintain close contact between pupils and students with the educational process,” Education Minister Niki Kerameus told the newspaper.

Many frightened of public contact have given up taking public transportation and are using their own vehicles after health officials warned that door handles and rails and other areas touched by masses could be breeding spots to spread the virus.

Traffic on Athens’ already clogged roads was getting worse even as many people are staying away from work or working at home, with the paper reporting the number of vehicles on the capital’s Attiki Odos ring road jumping 5.66 percent compared to February, with a 15 percent drop in people using public transport falling some 15 percent.

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