1.2 Physical distancing
On April 25 the Ministry of Health announced the re-opening of courts and registry offices from April 27, in adherence to the social distancing measures in place, and the decision to keep the lockdown in place up to May 4.The Greek Prime Minister, in a nationally televised address on April 28, announced that the country will begin easing restrictions on citizens’ movement as part of the Government’s efforts to reopen economies and restart public life. On April 29, the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs announced a detailed plan pertaining to the reopening of schools, stressing that the gradual lifting of the measures would be re-examined based on the outcome of their effectiveness.
Starting from 4 May, after a 42-day lockdown, Greece began to gradually lift restrictions on movement and to restart business activity. The plan consisted of specific milestone dates and extended throughout May and June 2020. It was evaluated against the COVID-19 infection rate over the subsequent weeks and revised based on the progression of the pandemic in the country.
Phase 1: May 4
In a first phase beginning on May 4, restrictions on the movement of citizens were lifted along with the written permission and related SMS required up to that day. However, movement restrictions outside the residents’ prefecture remained in place for further two weeks (May 18). Some small retail outlets (bookstores, optical stores, sports equipment, plant nurseries) resumed activity and visits to hairdressers, barbershops, beauty salons, as well as to vehicle technical inspection centers, were allowed by appointment only. Moreover, shoe repair services and hearing aid shops resumed operation and the movement across regions was permitted for producers supplying public markets. Finally, individual physical activitywas allowed outdoors and by the sea, but organized beaches remained closed during the 1st phase. Churches reopened for individual worship. Elective surgeries, in both the public and private sectors, resumed on 50% capacity of last year’s average with case prioritization and scheduling.
As far as public transport is concerned, the use of protective masks by employees and passengers is mandatory and monitoring at entry points is in place to ensure adherence to physical distancing guidelines. The frequency in public transport routes increased, especially during rush hours. For public sector employees, arrival to work is distributed across the time zones (07.00, 08.00 and 09.00 am), to avoid overcrowding in the various public transport modes.
Phase 2: May 11
The rest of the retail sector resumed operation (excluding shopping malls).In all stores, the protective measures limiting customer overcrowding was maintainedwith mandatory use of face masks where deemed necessary. On the same day, high school seniors resumed classes.
Phase 3: May 17 & 18
From Sunday May 17, churches were allowed to resume services and sacraments, adhering to strict social distancing rules. On May 18, junior high and upper secondary school classes resumed. Schools, however, were to operate with rules limiting overcrowding and distance learning continued to support students who, for special reasons, were not able to attend classes. Shopping malls reopened (excluding dining areas) with one customer allowed per 20 m2 and mandatory use of face masks.On the same day, archeological sites, zoos and botanical gardens opened for visitors. Betting agencies(OPAP) also opened without providing services to seated clientele.Moreover, the land and air connection between areas of continental Greece and the ferry connection with Crete and Evia was permitted.
Phase 4: May 25
Outdoor restaurants and cafes reopened, under restrictions (minimum distance of 2 meters between tables with a maximum of 4 peopleseated at each table). As of May 25, transition to/from all the other Greek islands was permitted.
Phase 5: June 1
Primary schools and kindergartens commenced on June 1. Year-round hotels and camping spots reopened. Outdoor cinemas resumed operation at 60% capacity, with a distance of 1.5 m between the spectators in each row.
Phase 6: June 15
Museums, historic buildings and areas, thematic parks and entertainment parks, as well as, wellness services (gyms, saunas, spas, thermal baths etc.) opened. Seasonal hotels/resorts resumed operation as of June 15th.
Indoor spaces in restaurants and cafes resumed operation, as well as entertainment venues and holiday accommodation.
The relaxation of restrictions in Greece, designed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, was gradual and targeted, while the stages of lifting the measures were spaced apart in order to review, on a daily basis, their effectiveness and evaluate the epidemiological data each time.
The coronavirus pandemic first appeared in Greece on February 26, 2020. Following the confirmation of the first three cases in Greece, on February 27 all festivals in the country were initially cancelled, and by March 10 a total of 89 cases had been confirmed in the country, mainly related to people who had travelled to Italy and a group of pilgrims who had travelled to Israel and Egypt, as well as their close contacts. Health and state authorities issued precautionary guidelines and recommendations, while measures up to that point were taken locally and included the closure of schools and the suspension of cultural events in the affected areas (particularly Ilia, Achaea and Zakynthos) – see below. However, on March 10, due to the outbreak of the virus in different parts of the country and failure by many to comply with the restrictive measures, the government decided to gradually enact universal response measures.
Movements and gatherings
From March 8 onwards, preventive measures, such as suspension of Open Care Centres for older people, deferral of all conference events and holding of sport events behind closed doors were announced. On March 9, all school trips, school championships and cultural events in enclosed and open spaces involving over 1,000 people were cancelled. Visiting hours in rehabilitation centres, day care and treatment units and kidney care units were revoked. Commencing on March 10, all educational establishments nationwide were closed for 14 days, with the suspension extended to April 10 and recurrently to May 10.
On March 18, Greece announced new coronavirus restrictions pertaining to migrant camps. For 30 days, the movement of camp residents was restricted to small groups (one person per family) between 7 am and 7 pm, with police surveillance on public transport locations. Specialised medical teams were sent to the camps for the creation of virus isolation areas and compulsory body temperature measurements. All other visits to the camps, whether by individuals or organizations, were suspended for 14 days. On the same day, a ban on public gatherings of 10 or more people and the imposition of a 1,000 euro fine for violations was announced. Furthermore, a supermarket entry card was put in place to ensure no more than one customer per 10 m2 is in store at the same time so as to avoid overcrowding.
On March 20, it was announced that only permanent residents and supply trucks would be allowed to travel to the Greek islands, with effect from 6am local time on 21 March. Travelers would have to provide proof of permanent residence (via a tax certificate) on the island to which they would wish to travel. People who were already on the islands and wished to leave were allowed to return to the mainland.
On March 22, the Greek government announced a ban on all nonessential transport and movement across the country, starting from 6 am on March 23 until April 6, but for a prescribed set of reasons:
1. Going to the pharmacy or visiting a medical doctor, in the case that this is recommended after consultation.
2. Going to a supply store in operation (supermarkets, mini markets etc), which cannot ship or deliver its goods.
3. Going to the bank, when electronic transactions are not possible.
4. Going to help people in need.
5. Going to a ceremony (e.g., funeral, marriage, baptism) under the conditions provided by law; or movement of divorced or legally separated parents in the context of parental responsibility, custody, or visiting rights in accordance with the applicable provisions.
6. Physical exercise in an open space or for a pet’s needs; individually or up to 2 people (with a minimum distance of 1.5 meters kept at all times).
People returning to their permanent places of residence were exempt. Citizens leaving their home were required to carry their ID or passport, as well as some type of attestation depending on the purpose of travel. The webpage https://forma.gov.gr/ was created, providing instructions in reference to the Lockdown and the 2 types of movement permits that individuals were to have with them at all times, should they needed to leave their home. These were:
Work Commute Permit for Employees (Type A)
For commuting to and from the workplace at working hours the movement permit was provided under the personal responsibility of the signatory, by the employer or the legal representative thereof, or in the case of a freelancer or self-employed, themselves.
Extraordinary Movement Permit (Type B)
In order to issue a single-use extraordinary movement permit (type B), three options were available: through a free SMS text message to the number 13033, through a printed one-time single-use movement permit, or through a signed handwritten declaration.
The required information included name, home address, time of departure from home, and specific reason for transport, in accordance with the special provisions and exceptions. Members of the government and Parliament as well as all Health, Civil Protection, Law Enforcement and Armed Forces personnel were excluded from the measure. The Hellenic Police, the Municipal Police, the Hellenic Coast Guard and the National Transparency Authority were required to enforce the restrictions and issue fines of 150€ for each offense.
On the same day, it was also announced that daytime public transport services would be reduced, ensuring, however, sufficient service during business hours. Journeys by car were only permitted for the specific exemptions.
On April 7, the government announced further restrictions on travel by land, sea and air until April 27 as part of the efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 during Easter. People at airports, ports, railway stations and intercity bus stations were only allowed to travel by carrying income tax documentation certifying that their permanent residence is their intended destination. Furthermore, travelers were not allowed to return until measures ceased to apply (April 27). Those caught violating the rules incurred a 300€ fine –double the initial fine– while their license plates were removed for 60 days. In addition, up to April 27, islanders were only allowed to travel from small to larger islands within the same municipality for visits exclusively to pharmacies, doctors, supply stores and banks (if electronic transactions were not possible).
Suspension of businesses and workplaces
On March 12, a two-week closure of all theatres, courthouses, cinemas, gyms, playgrounds and clubs was announced.
On March 13, the nationwide closure of all shopping centres, cafes, restaurants, bars, museums and archaeological sites, excluding supermarkets, pharmacies and food outlets that offer take-away and delivery only, was announced. On March 14, all organized beaches and ski resorts were closed.
On March 19, the government announced the closure of all hotels across the country, from midnight on March 22 until the end of April. Only hotels accommodating personnel guarding the borders would continue to operate, as well as three hotels in Athens and Thessaloniki and one hotel per regional unit.
On March 22, all parks, recreation areas and marinas were also closed. Retailers who illegally continued operations were arrested in an initial display of the government’s zero tolerance policy on breaches of public health guidelines.
Suspension of religious practices
On March 16, the Greek Prime Minister announced the government's decision to suspend services in all areas of religious worship of any religion or dogma with immediate effect until March 30, effectively suspending the Greek Orthodox Sunday Divine Liturgies for that period too.