Greek restaurateurs request more state support

Greek restaurateurs and coffee shop owners held symbolic protests in Athens and other cities on Wednesday, requesting more state support to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least four in 10 businesses of the catering sector are at risk of permanent closure since the lockdowns and general restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 are in force for months, they said, citing surveys conducted by their unions.

Greece’s first nationwide lockdown last spring lasted almost two months. The second one which started on Nov. 7 has just been extended to Feb. 28. After a short break during the summer when businesses of the sector opened fully, since autumn they are allowed to only offer delivery and take away services.

“Today the catering sector lets out a cry of agony,” George Kavvathas, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Restaurant and Related Professions, which organized the protest, told media.

According to a survey carried out for the federation, about 4 in 10 businessmen in catering said they already see the padlock on the horizon, while other surveys indicate that the percentage could reach 60 percent if the crisis continues for many more months, Kavvathas said.

The annual revenues of the sector in 2019 stood at 6.4 billion euros (7.8 billion U.S dollars) and dropped to 4.6 billion euros in 2020, but was supported by the government with about 1.9 billion euros in recent months, Deputy Finance Minister Theodoros Skylakakis said, speaking to local radio “Proto Thema” (Top Story) on Wednesday.

Currently, about 200,000 employees in the sector receive a monthly allowance of 534 euros from the state, he noted. According to 2019 data the catering sector in Greece has 77,000 businesses employing a total of 409,000 people, the minister said.

The Finance Ministry has estimated that the crisis costs the entire Greek economy 2.4 billion euros every month. A 24-billion-euro worth package of support measures was implemented in 2020, while additional 7.5 billion euros have been allocated already for 2021.

There is no economy without public health, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a televised address on Tuesday evening, urging citizens to remain patient and optimistic.

With vaccinations underway, Greece and the world will soon exit the crisis, Mitsotakis said.

On Wednesday, the National Public Health Organization announced 1,496 new cases and 17 deaths within 24 hours. The country has now reported 167,549 confirmed infections and 6,034 fatalities since the first case was diagnosed in Greece on Feb. 26, 2020. (1 euro = 1.2 U.S. dollars)