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Praying for Time: Greece Hopes COVID-19 Half-Lockdown Works

ATHENS – Hoping to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic as it's set to collide with a flu season that has proved deadly, Greece's New Democracy government's mini-lockdown is set to go into effect at 6 a.m. Nov. 3, closing bar and restaurants in high-risk areas, but not banks, stores or schools.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, hoping to avoid the kind of full lockdown he ordered in March that lasted up to 10 weeks and held down the number of cases and deaths, is betting that localized closures and tougher measures will work.

His pleas for people to behave responsibly fell on deaf ears for many who refused to wear masks or stay a safe social distance of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart from each other, especially the young, who partied.

That caused a rapid rise in cases and lowered the average age of those being infected, then leading to a further spread in the elderly who, along with those with multiple or underlying conditions are the most susceptible.

The added measures are set to last a month and will hit hard businesses already teetering, some of which defied curfews that required them to shut at midnight, and with concern growing that more regions will face even tighter restrictions.

The government’s one-month plan effectively divides the country into two zones from the current four – putting regions in risk level three and four into one zone and grouping levels one and two where infections are still low, said Kathimerini.

In the higher-risk zone, which includes the areas around Athens and the country's second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, cinemas, gyms, theaters and museums must close and restaurants can offer only delivery or takeaway.

A curfew, from midnight to 5 a.m., will apply nationwide, as will the mandatory use of face masks in all public areas. Travel between regions will be permitted, unlike in the first lockdown in the spring. 

“I must put the health and safety of Greeks above all other options,” Mitsotakis said, adding that the compromise plan would not “freeze” daily life and are aimed at preventing another total lockdown.

The government is to bolster businesses obliged to close with some 1.5 billion euros ($1.74 billion) but it wasn't said if aid will be given to workers temporarily laid-off as the government has not moved to help artists, musicians and performers.

The decision to close bars and restaurants was based on the advice of the government's scientific and medical advisory team which said those are places where the Coronavirus can spread faster through overcrowding.

The government had allowed them to stay open but not theaters or concerts with no explanation why, given that night clubs could be superspreader sites. The government was said to have considered earlier curfews for nightclubs but decided it wouldn't alleviate overcrowding.

The move was said to have been made not just of a dramatic rise in cases that on one day topped 2,000, but because there's pressure building on public hospitals and Intensive Care Units (ICU's) that had been beefed up during the pandemic.

In Thessaloniki, for instance, occupancy at ICUs rose from 10 to 60 percent within a week and there were fears that COVID-19 patients from northern Greece would have to be sent to Athens hospitals where occupancy is at around 50 to 60 percent, which could have been 100 percent full by mid-November.

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