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Economy

Long Time Coming: Greece Moves to Reopen Restaurants in May

ATHENS – It's too late for many who didn't survive COVID-19 lockdowns that kept them shuttered, but Greece’s New Democracy government will let restaurants, bars and taverns reopen on 3 of May, just ahead of opening to tourists who are vaccinated or have negative Coronavirus tests.

State Minister George Gerapetritis gave the indication amid worries whether many people would come to a country where they can’t go out to eat or drink and be limited to where they could travel, with restrictions still in place.

The opening of the food sector, comes as the country is desperate to revive tourism, the biggest revenue engine and employer, bringing in as much as 20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 166.78 billion euros ($200.3 billion) that’s needed more than ever.

“Our intention is to have a coordinated opening of the restaurants after Easter,” the minister told state television ERT, adding that customers would be allowed to dine outdoors.

The government is also trying to accelerate a slow-moving vaccination program that has seen only 7 percent of the country’s residents being fully inoculated, 10 times less than needed to slow the more than year-long pandemic.

Earlier in April, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that six out of seven businesses in the sector – amongst the hardest hit by lockdowns and unable to sustain themselves on take-out and deliveries, had gotten some state aid.

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.

“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.

“It is a catastrophe both professionally and personally for businesses that have tried for years to stay afloat,” he said, still closed as spring began and the government aimed to reopen to tourists on May 14.

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