Greeks rush to get haircuts, buy flowers, as virus lockdown eases

A commuter wearing a protective face mask waits for a train at the metro station on Syntagma square, on the first day of easing of a nationwide lockdown against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece

Greek hair salons, flower shops and bookstores reopened on Monday as part of a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions imposed six weeks ago to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

From early morning, police carried out inspections on buses and in metro stations to make sure passengers were wearing the mandatory surgical masks and in shops to check whether social distancing rules were being respected.

Greeks no longer need a form stating a valid reason – such as shopping for food or medicine, or taking physical exercise – for permission to leave their homes.

Traffic volumes increased on the streets of Athens and other large cities, and queues formed outside electrical appliance shops, which were also allowed to open for the first time since Greece imposed its tough blanket lockdown in mid-March.

Greece, a country of 11 million people, has so far registered 2,626 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and 144 deaths, far fewer than in many other European countries.

But Greece, which only emerged in 2018 from a debt crisis that wiped out a quarter of its economic output, is desperate to let businesses reopen and fears the coronavirus pandemic will ravage this year’s tourism revenues, a pillar of its economy.

Local television channels showed hairdressers and their clients wearing surgical masks in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki. Hair salons operate only on appointments.

Small retail stores including florists and booksellers, opticians and spa services are among other businesses allowed to reopen on Monday.

The working hours of the shops allowed to reopen are likely to be extended due to high pent-up demand.

Schools, restaurants and bars are expected to reopen later this month. Hotels will start to open from June 1.

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