Greece looks to ease pressure with cautious shops reopening

Wreaths are placed on graves next to newly-opened graves, in a designated cemetery area for patients who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece allowed shops to reopen under controlled conditions on Monday, despite heavy pressure on its health services, as the government responded to growing public fatigue after months of coronavirus lockdown.

Last week the government announced the easing of some restrictions, allowing small retail shops selling non-essential goods to reopen, under so-called click-away and click-in-shopping modes.

Under the rules, consumers must make appointments and comply with a three-hour limit for shopping, and retailers cannot allow in more than one customer per 25 square metres.

“What is important is that the shops opened,” said Achilleas Nasis, a shopper in central Athens. “And it’s nice, under this new system where you send a message, you choose, and you go get it. It is good.”

The measure excludes shopping malls and department stores in the Athens area which will remain closed. Shops will also remain closed in three regions with severe infection levels, including the major northern city of Thessaloniki.

Greece handled the first wave of the pandemic last year better than many other countries in Europe, but its health services, weakened by a decade of financial crisis, have come under heavy pressure as case numbers have surged this year.

The government is due to begin distribution this week of home testing kits, initially for high schools and teachers before wider distribution to all adults, which it hopes will help contain the spread of the pandemic before the start of the vital summer tourist season.

Lockdown measures imposed in November have caused growing discontent and left many businesses struggling to survive but Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Greece’s ability to borrow on financial markets would enable the government to help.

A 130 million euro ($150 million) package announced by the government on Monday would help around 100,000 businesses, including some 10,800 retailers, with financial assistance ranging from 1,000-4,000 euros, depending on the number of workers employed, Staikouras said.

“We are making use of funds raised from markets in the last months to support businesses and households,” he said.

On Sunday Greece reported 1,955 new COVID-19 infections and 78 related deaths, bringing total infections to 275,414 and COVID-related deaths to 8,380.

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