Greece’s cafes, restaurants reopen after 6 months of COVID-19 closure

Cafeterias, restaurants and bars reopened on Monday across Greece in a festive atmosphere after a six-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The country’s second lockdown, which started on Nov. 7, 2020, is gradually being eased this spring, as the number of new infections has stabilized lately and vaccinations continue.

The catering sector restarted under restrictions ahead of the opening of the tourism season, which is scheduled for May 15.

Businesses are only allowed to serve seated customers outdoors, with maximum six persons per table and with safe distances between tables. Waiters are obliged to wear protective face masks and take two coronavirus tests per week.

Customers need to book an appointment and send a text message to a state number to justify their exit from home. All catering establishments must close at 11.00 p.m. for the night-time curfew.

Over the past six months, catering businesses could only offer delivery and takeaway services. Many opted to stay closed.

Greeks flocked to cafes and restaurants on Monday to meet friends there after several months. “We are feeling free again. This will definitely improve our spiritual status, because we were all affected and many were on the brink of depression,” Mathilde, a customer at a cafe bar in Athens, told Xinhua.

“I want to be optimistic. I believe this summer we will take us many steps forward. I want to believe that we will not enter a new quarantine,” Christos Voglis, manager of the bar, said.

“Since this adventure started, we went through difficult times, but now we are making a good fresh start,” Spiros Bairaktaris, owner of a popular restaurant in the center of Athens founded 142 years ago, told Xinhua. “I believe everything will be fine. I am optimistic. People want to go out to take a breath and celebrate this new ‘resurrection’, because what we went through was very tough.”

“I believe we will enjoy a great summer. Greece never dies. This is my motto,” he stressed.

Bairaktaris was thankful for the support provided by the state during the pandemic, which kept many businesses afloat.

Over the past year, the catering sector lost more than 2.5 billion euros (3 billion U.S. dollars) in turnover, according to recent estimates by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

The Greek state’s package of support measures will total 15 billion euros this year, double the initial estimate of 7.5 billion. The cumulative total value of the support packages since the start of the pandemic stands at 39 billion euros, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras told the Greek national broadcaster ERT a few days ago.

The measures include subsidies for bank loans, suspension of taxes and social insurance payments and financial aid through European Union (EU) funds to cover rents and other costs.

On Monday, the authorities reported 2,146 new COVID-19 infections and 134 deaths in the past 48 hours. About 3.1 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country so far.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in an increasing number of countries with already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.

Meanwhile, 277 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide — 93 of them in clinical trials — in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States, according to latest information released by the World Health Organization on Friday. (1 euro = 1.21 U.S. dollars)