Greece to hike fines for violation of COVID-19 restrictions

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister says the country’s retail sector might begin to gradually reopen next week, if scientists advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic recommend it is safe to do so today.

Speaking in Parliament Friday during a debate on the government’s handling of the pandemic, Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said fines for violating measures imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will increase to 500 euros ($600), from the current 300 euros.

Lockdown restrictions were imposed nationwide in Greece in early November to tackle a surge in coronavirus infections, shutting down restaurants, bars, cafes, retail stores, schools, entertainment venues and anything not considered an essential business.

Primary schools and kindergartens reopened this week, but high school lessons are being held online only. People are allowed to leave their homes only for a limited number of specific reasons, and must send a telephone text message to authorities or carry a self-declaration in order to do so.

Mitsotakis said pressure on the country’s health system is beginning to ease, with more than 400 intensive care unit beds now free, allowing for restrictive measures to be gradually relaxed.

But, he said, the generally improving situation in Greece should not lead to complacency, and some protective measures would have to stay in place.

“I want to be absolutely clear, every opening of economic activity harbors the danger of an increase in (COVID-19) cases,” Mitsotakis said. “As long as this increase in cases is moderate and controlled and as long as it doesn’t put pressure on the health system, it is something we can bear. These are the delicate balances we must find.”

Mitsotakis said each month of lockdown was costing the Greek economy more than 3 billion euros.

“That is why it is perhaps time … if the experts recommend it, to carefully — I stress this — take the risk of gradually restarting the economy,” Mitsotakis said.

One option for the partial reopening retail stores as of Monday is a system of purchases by appointment, or customers picking up purchases from stores after having placed the orders online or by telephone, a system that was used in December in the run-up to the Christmas holidays.

“The government is ready, if there is a positive recommendation, to implement this policy as of Monday. Always while adhering to protective measures, with increased checks,” Mitsotakis said.

The panel of scientists advising the government on the pandemic was reportedly recommending a partial reopening of the retail sector, with announcements expected by the government on Friday evening.

The country of about 11 million has reported a total of nearly 150,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 5,387 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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