ATHENS – In a country of 11 million people, Greek authorities in the first two days of a second COVID-19 lockdown got 8.6 million text message requests for permission from people who wanted out of their homes, many claiming they were walking themselves or their dogs after a 9 p.m. curfew
The 13033 hotline granting individuals permission to leave their homes was inundated, Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis, although it's apparently granted automatically even for missions not permissible.
Some young people said they sent requests for permission to hold a massive party in violation of laws banning them and got instant approval, indicating there is no review.
People out of their homes must, if stopped by police, show their approvals on their cell phones, a form downloaded from the Internet or written out by hand indicating they are going to places allowed open, such as supermarkets, banks, pharmacies or to a doctor as well as taking exercise or walking a pet.
Pierrakakis told SKAI TV the system processed around 4.7 million requests on Nov. 8, the first day of the quasi-lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus, and 3.9 million the next day.
He claimed that was only “slightly higher” than in the same phase of the first lockdown in March that lasted 10 weeks and saw streets virtually empty and almost no one out of their homes, especially compared to now.
During the spring lockdown, the hotline processed 110 million requests in the first 42 days of operation, an average of around 2.6 million messages a day. He said an increase by about a million a day was expected now because elementary schools are open and parents and grandparents are out with children.
“The system is responding satisfactorily, with just a few minor glitches at the start,” the minister said without noting reports that many streets in Athens were choked with traffic.
The Deputy Minister for Digital Governance, Grigoris Zafiropoulos, also said there is no limit to the number of text message requests someone can send daily, which could skew the actual number of people out and about.
“There is not cut-off point,” he told state broadcaster ERT, responding to reports that the hotline places a cap on the number of requests citizens are allowed to make. “The messages are not stored. That was never the intention of 13033,” Zafiropoulos said.
But he said people should be aware they could be asked by police to show their phones of forms stating who they are and where they're going or they face fines of 300 euros ($353.96) that has been doubled.
The government is set to tighten inspections even more in hopes of lifting the lockdown Dec. 1 to try to right a teetering economy in time for the critical holiday season that is a big revenue engine.
Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, applauded for bringing an early first lockdown, is trying to balance saving lives and the economy and imposed another when cases began to spike nearly out of control.
Another 41 deaths on Nov. 10 brought the grim toll to 825 and an additional 1,490 cases saw that total jump to 58,187 and still climbing by the day.