Greece to relax COVID-19 restrictions

ATHENS, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Greek government announced on Friday the partial relaxation of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from Jan. 18 with the reopening of the retail sector.

Greece has been in a nationwide lockdown since Nov. 7, 2020, which has been extended many times. The retail sector had briefly reopened ahead of the Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays, before closing again earlier this month.

As the number of new COVID-19 cases has been dropping steadily in the past ten days, the government decided, following health experts' advice, to take the risk and gradually reopen the economy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in parliament.

The lockdown costs the Greek economy over three billion euros (3.63 billion U.S. dollars) each month, he noted.

"Any restart of economic activity carries the risk of an increase in cases. As long as this increase in cases is small and controlled and as long as it does not put pressure on the health system, it is something we can cope with. It is these difficult balances that we must find," he said.

From Monday, all retail shops, shopping malls, hairdressers and bookstores across Greece will reopen under conditions. A limit of one customer per 25 square meters must be observed in closed spaces, and a minimum distance of two meters must be kept when customers are queuing in front of cashiers. The use of face masks remains mandatory indoors and outdoors.

Churches and other places of worship will also reopen under similar conditions, while catering services (restaurants, cafeterias) will remain closed until further notice.

The obligation for all individuals residing in Greece to send an SMS message to obtain permission to leave their homes remains in force. Movement and travel between regions remains banned, except for work and health reasons.

A curfew also remains in force from 9:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m.

On Friday, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) registered 610 new COVID-19 cases within 24 hours, bringing the national total to 147,860, while country's death toll rose by 34 to 5,421. (1 euro = 1.21 U.S. dollars)

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