ATHENS, March 23 (Xinhua) -- City streets across Greece were deserted as the government launched on Monday a 14-day nationwide lockdown in an effort to contain the further spread of the novel coronavirus.
Greece has registered so far 17 deaths linked to COVID-19, up from 15 reported a day earlier and 71 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 695, said Sotirios Tsiodras, Health Ministry spokesperson on the epidemic, at a regular press conference on Monday.
A total of 114 people were hospitalized, including 35 in critical condition and 29 have been discharged since Greece diagnosed its first coronavirus case on Feb. 26, he said.
Greek authorities have advised people with mild symptoms to stay at home, be in contact with their family doctors and avoid getting tested for the virus, local media reported.
Currently, Greece has at least 685 beds in intensive care units (ICUs) and more than 2,000 beds in hospitals and clinics to treat exclusively COVID-19 patients, said Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias at the briefing.
The official thanked China once again for the aid provided to Greece in the struggle against the novel coronavirus.
"I want to thank, through Chinese Ambassador to Greece (Zhang Qiyue), the Chinese government for the assistance provided," he said.
Last week Greece received more than 18 tons of medical supplies from the Chinese government, enterprises and the Chinese community in Greece.
On Monday, Piraeus Port Authority S.A. (PPA), operated by China's COSCO Shipping Ports Limited, donated sanitary materials to Tzaneio General Hospital in Piraeus to support the operation of new beds in the new ICUs for patients with COVID-19, according to an e-mailed press statement.
Last week PPA S.A. also donated materials for the needs of Greece's Coast Guard.
Nikos Hardalias, Deputy Minister for Civil Protection and Crises Management at the Ministry of Citizen Protection, said that so far it seems that the overwhelming majority of people in Greece complied with the lockdown, based on the latest data from police controls in the streets.
Most citizens carried with them the needed certificates to verify that they were falling under the exemption categories for movement.
People are allowed to leave their homes to purchase food or medicine, visit a doctor or a person that requires care, to exercise alone or in pairs, or to walk a pet.
Even workers who were disinfecting buildings and public open spaces were carrying such documents.
A minimum 150-euro (161 U.S. dollars) fine is imposed on those who violate the measure. A 5,000-euro fine is imposed on those who have arrived in Greece as of Friday afternoon from abroad but violated required 14-day quarantine at home.
Proceeds raised from such fines will be used to support the national healthcare system, Hardalias said.
Earlier it was announced that Greece bans all flights from the UK as of Monday till April 15 under the containment measures.
Regarding Turkey, Greek authorities have also suspended passenger transport by sea, road, and rail except for Greek citizens, people who have residence permits or permanent residence in Greece. Transport of goods by road or sea are exempted.
Greece has introduced similar bans in recent days for other countries with increased confirmed coronavirus cases, such as Italy and Spain.
Also on Monday, Greek airliner Aegean announced the suspension of all its flights to and from destinations abroad with the exception of a few flights to and from Brussels to keep Greece connected to the EU headquarters, and flights for the repatriation of Greek citizens in coordination with the government.
Prior to the lockdown, the government had closed schools, universities, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls, retail shops, sports and cultural centers, as well as public parks. (1 euro = 1.07 U.S. dollars)