Bustling no more: Greek cafes still shuttered by COVID-19 restrictions

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Silence has replaced the low hum of conversation and the clink of glasses that pervaded the sidewalk cafes across Athens. Their chairs and tables, once occupied throughout the day and deep into the night, stand stacked in empty piles, some secured by chains.

When coronavirus infections rose again in Greece in the fall, the government imposed a second lockdown. Retail stores, bars, restaurants and cafes found themselves shuttered once more, forced to close their doors in early November to prevent the virus’s insidious spread.

Iron tables stand in front of a decorated fence outside a shuttered traditional restaurant in Plaka, district of Athens, on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris.

Retail stores opened briefly during the Christmas holidays, with social distancing measures in place, and starting Monday will be allowed to reopen to customers on an appointment basis. But the restaurants, bars and cafes, which by nature gather groups of people closely together, will enter their sixth month of being shut except for take away or delivery service.

While state subsidies such as rent coverage, loans, tax reductions and paid employee furlough schemes are available, the formula hasn’t worked for all business owners.

Vassilis Panteris, co-owner of an all-day bar that provides coffee, food and drinks in a central Athens neighborhood, shut down at the start of Greece’s second lockdown on Nov. 7 and hasn’t opened since.

Tables and chairs stand outside a shuttered traditional fish restaurant in Aspropyrgos, a northwest suburb of Athens, on Friday, March 26, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris.

The main reason, he told AP News, was the partners feared they wouldn’t be able to make enough money from deliveries to cover operation costs, even with fewer staff members. They also worried that some customers coming by for take-away coffee, food or drinks wouldn’t adhere to social distancing and other government regulations, exposing the café to hefty fines.

Panteris said the business has lost about 30,000 euros ($35,000) since the start of the pandemic. Business owners hope for more substantial government support to retain employees and keep their establishments alive. Greece sank back into recession last year due to the pandemic and accompanying lockdown measures.

Tables and chairs outside a shuttered traditional fish restaurant in Aspropyrgos, a northwest suburb of Athens, on Friday, March 26, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris.

“It’s hard to make predictions about the course of the business in the middle of such an unstable environment,” Panteris said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Greece has reported more than 263,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 8,000 virus-related deaths. The country of around 11 million people so far has administered 1.7 million vaccine doses, with over 600,000 people fully vaccinated with two shots.

Source: AP News.

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