People walk at Ermou street in Athens, Greece, on May 11, 2020. Greece took another step on Monday towards the full resumption of economic and social activities by reopening the first schools and retail shops, two months after their closure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou, Li Xiaopeng
ATHENS, May 11 (Xinhua) -- Greece took another step on Monday towards the full resumption of economic and social activities by reopening the first schools and retail shops, two months after their closure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Although Greece keeps publishing encouraging figures on new COVID-19 infections lately, the risk is still here, therefore the protection measures should continue to be observed in classrooms, schoolyards, and stores, the authorities reminded the public on Monday.
"The gradual reopening of the country's schools is starting today in the context of the wider easing of the measures the government has implemented. (We are moving) step by step, carefully, always based on the experts' instructions," Education and Religious Affairs Minister Niki Kerameus told Greek national broadcaster ERT during her visit to a high school in Athens.
Students in the final year of high school returned to their classrooms on Monday. They will be followed by other high school and middle school pupils on May 18. The schools have been provided with antiseptics, the maximum number of students allowed in each class will be 15 so that there can always be a distance of 1.5 meters between them, and breaks will be held separately for each class to avoid overcrowding in yards.
Similar limitations on the number of persons allowed in enclosed spaces at any time are to be observed in retail stores, which also went back to business on Monday.
Greece started easing on May 4 the full lockdown, which was imposed on March 23. After hair salons, bookstores and other shops opened a week ago, now about a third of employees and businesses that were suspended have returned to work, Greek government spokesperson Stelios Petsas noted on Monday during a regular press briefing.
Concern about the fate of their businesses under the heavy impact of the new crisis, despite the government's efforts to support the economy, was prevalent on Monday among shop owners in central Athens.
Nikos Makropoulos has been the owner of a tourist souvenirs shop near the Acropolis hill for the past 46 years. He would close it only 3-4 days per year, during the Christmas and Easter holidays. On Monday, he went back to his shop for the first time since March 12, as schools and retail stores had been shut down long before the full lockdown.
"It was one of the worst periods we have gone through all these years we have been in business, for us and employees. Employees did receive this allowance (800 euros or 864 U.S. dollars) they distributed. I don't know if it was sufficient. I received a benefit three days ago," he told Xinhua.
"We cleaned up, we came with optimism to see what we can do, but there is nothing, the camera captures the situation. Nobody can forecast what will happen, because it is unprecedented," he said.
His shop depends on the presence in the city of tourists, including those from China, who are not expected to be back in Greece before July due to the ongoing restrictive measures across the world.
"In the past 5-6 years, the flows of tourists have increased significantly. The number of visitors from China has also been growing. Last year I saw more (Chinese tourists) than ever," he said.
Makropoulos and his colleagues fear that with this year's tourist season shortened to just three months in the best-case scenario, they will struggle to stay afloat.
"If we do not work even during this shortened season, you will see padlocks all around. Nobody will be able to go on, because the expenses are huge and people cannot make ends meet," he stressed.
The government has already allocated more than 17 billion euros (18.4 billion U.S. dollars) to support the economy, but people request would need more. After a decade of debt crisis and austerity measures, all their savings are gone, Makropoulos noted.
"It is very difficult for the entire world. I believe each one of us has his problems. We have to pay rent and meet our obligations to the state. Until the tourism industry restarts, there is uncertainty," Prokopis Moschos, who also owns a shop in central Athens, told Xinhua.
"This situation is not viable for us. I think that if things don't change adequately, it is not sustainable," he said, adding that he also depended on Chinese travelers in recent years. "We had many Chinese tourists. We would rely on them, a few stores more than others. Generally, the volume of (Chinese) travelers visiting Greece, either for weddings on the island of Santorini, or to visit the Acropolis here, is very big. We would very much like to see them again, as long as everything is okay and normalcy is restored," he said.
On Monday, Greece's Health Ministry announced ten new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, which brought the total number of infections since the start of the outbreak in the country on Feb. 26 to 2,726.
There have been no deaths registered since Sunday and the COVID-19-related death toll in the country remains 151. (1 euro = 1.08 U.S. dollars) Enditem