ATHENS – Even as health authorities warned against complacency and urged caution because the COVID-19 pandemic is still hospitalizing and killing people, Greece is moving – albeit slowly – toward near-normal life just as tourists are coming.
Beginning May 14, with the first arrivals of foreign visitors the New Democracy government hopes will turn into a big-money cavalcade to bolster a sagging economy, people will no longer have to get permission to be out of their homes.
That's essentially already moot with people flocking to stores, malls, parks, bars and restaurants – with outside seating only until June 1 – abandoning social distancing rules they've lived under for 15 months and shedding masks.
In hopes of luring more visitors, a night curfew has been extended from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and there won't be fines for people leaving restaurants at that time.
“We are leaving the lockdowns behind us,” said Akis Skertsos, Deputy Minister to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said Kathimerini.
The same day, the so-called click-and-collect method under which customers could shop online and make reservations to pick up goods outside will end and in-store shopping will pick up with one customer per 25 square meters (270 square feet.)
To ease travel to islands – except Lefkada and Evia – there will be a Green Certificate required showing proof of full vaccation at least 14 days after the second dose, a negative result from a PCR test carried out up to 72 hours prior, a negative result from a rapid test or self-test conducted up to 24 hours before, or documentary proof of illness.
All domestic and foreign travelers over 5 years old will be obliged to comply with these conditions, the paper said.
Until indoor dining is allowed, restaurant still won't be allowed to play music outside after health officials said that would force people to lean too close to each other to hear conversations and put them at risk.
Kindergartens will open on May 17, summer cinemas on May 21, and outdoor cultural spaces on May 28. As of June, weddings and baptisms will take place outdoors with a maximum of 100 people.
Skertsos noted the gradual easing of health restrictions that were being widely ignored or defied anyway and that even that hadn't driven cases to rates that the health system couldn't handle, apart from deaths and people in public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs.)
“Despite the increased mobility, we have achieved our goal,” he said. Driving the confidence was an accelerating vaccination program as he noted that they didn't exist in 2020, “while this year we have them.”
He said while at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 it was difficult to do 800 tests a day now, “We are exceeding 80,000 a day and at the same time performing millions of self-tests on a weekly basis.”
“Last year the population’s immunity was almost zero, while this year it is growing exponentially,” he added, and that the National Health System was upgraded and the number of ICU beds more than doubled.
“Thanks to all these factors, we can safely say that we are leaving the lockdowns behind us and we can open safely,” he said, the report added.