ATHENS – "We are gradually moving forward with the resumption of social and economic activity," government spokesperson Stelios Petsas said on Thursday during a press briefing.
He noted that roughly one third of suspended workers and businesses have already returned to work. He also referred to the return of school pupils in their final year and added that, from this Saturday, after assessing weather conditions, the epidemiological data and the recommendations of the Committee of Epidemiologists, the government may open 515 organised beaches.
"There will be specific rules and their implementation will be monitored," said Petsas. At the same time, he stressed that "this is an important test that we must pass successfully. Everyone is watching Greece because, so far, it has shown an exemplary treatment of the pandemic. Now we are called upon to demonstrate that, with rules and maturity, we can enjoy the beauty of our country safely during this summer also. This will be the best passport to restarting not only domestic but chiefly foreign tourism. So let's seal it this weekend."
Petsas added that, from Monday, travel to other regions of mainland Greece will be allowed, as well as travel to and from Crete. On the same day, all high school and middle school pupils (gymnasium and lyceum) will return to classrooms. On Monday, zoos and botanical gardens will open, as will archaeological sites, while rehearsals and filming will be permitted with adherence to strict protection rules, he added.
"It is self-evident and we do not stop emphasising that the path to the new normality follows the safety rules," he stressed.
"Inconsistency and complacency can cause setbacks and this would be costly for the country," the government spokesperson said.
"At a time when the economy is slowly recovering, the government is turning its attention to protecting workers with hygiene and safety measures. As the prime minister pointed out during a video conference with the social partners and officials of the labour ministry, the gradual easing of lockdown measures must in no way be to the detriment of the health of workers, who return to work under newer difficult circumstances. In this regard, the prime minister has given as a general guideline for the continued use of teleworking wherever possible, the extension of special-purpose leave and an upgraded role for workplace doctors."
He also noted that "in the meantime, efforts are underway to upgrade the national health system. National Public Health Organisation mobile units have already started conducting tests on vulnerable groups of the population. [The number of] ICUs is growing and new recruitments of doctors and nurses are taking place. As the prime minister noted the coronavirus crisis was a trigger for fixing chronic problems of the Greek health system."
Regarding the progress of recruitments in the health sector, Petsas stated that a total of 4,150 recruitments have been completed, which included 495 doctors, 2,085 nurses and 1,570 other health personnel.
On the resumption of transport and tourism, the government spokesperson said: "The health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has changed our daily lives, the way we move about. This inevitably hurts tourism and transportation. The government is drawing up a plan to address the impact on tourism. To reduce as much as possible the losses during this year's tourist season, which will inevitably be large. In order to achieve this, Greece was the first to put the issue at the centre of the European public debate. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has repeatedly stressed, both bilaterally and at a summit level, that a pillar of the single market is the free movement of persons, which is one of the four fundamental freedoms upon which the EU is built. We have cooperated with the European Commission and other countries in order to achieve a common framework – which was not self-evident – for the gradual normalisation of transport and tourism, with common rules and common conditions."
He added that "yesterday the European Commission presented the framework of guidelines and recommendations, including proposals for health and travel protocols, for tracking tools, for common financial instruments, as well as a pan-European campaign to promote Europe as a global tourist destination.
"A cohesive link in the framework is the principle of non-discrimination, which facilitates the movement between countries and regions of the European Union with similar epidemiological characteristics and not on the basis of geographical distance or means of transport. And this is of major importance, as Greece, thanks to the rapid and effective treatment of the pandemic, is one of the countries with the lowest spread of the virus."
Petsas stressed that "now that we have the common European framework, the government is ready and will present its overall plan for the resumption of tourism."
Regarding the support measures for employees and companies, Petsas pointed out that "the new COVID-19 Business Guarantee Fund was set up by the Hellenic Development Bank – and will be available to companies within May. Its mission is to contribute to the restart of the economy, boosting business liquidity. To this end, it will provide loans for working capital, on favourable terms and reduced collateral for small, medium and large enterprises. It will initially have 1.0 billion euros to generate a total of 3.5 billion euros in liquidity leverage. Beneficiaries are all companies operating legally in all sectors of the economy, including those involved in agricultural production, fisheries and aquaculture."