ATHENS — Greece will enter a second nationwide lockdown this weekend in an effort to halt a recent coronavirus surge, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday.
All shops other than supermarkets and pharmacies will close and travel between regions will be banned. Authorities are also reintroducing a text messaging system to grant people permission to leave their homes — which is allowed only for work, shopping for essentials, visiting a doctor or exercising.
High schools will close and teach via distance learning, but — unlike during the spring lockdown — kindergartens and primary schools will remain open. It’s unclear whether churches will continue operating.
The measures, which go into effect on Saturday and remain in place for at least three weeks, come just days after the government ordered bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses to shut.
Mitsotakis said that a surge in new cases over the last five days had “forced” him to take action now, adding that he could not afford to wait and see if the recently adopted measures worked and risk an “unbearable” pressure on hospitals.
Main opposition Syriza party is accusing the government of a “total failure” in managing the pandemic’s second wave. Until late Wednesday, the government had ruled out an imminent lockdown.
Cases in Greece, which weathered the first wave better than many European countries, began to rise gradually over the summer. Daily infections plateaued at around 400 from late September to mid-October, but more than doubled and then quadrupled in recent days. Health authorities reported a new daily record on Wednesday, with 2,646 new infections and 18 deaths.
Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said on Wednesday that 72 percent of intensive care beds in Athens were already occupied, while in northern Greece 80-90 percent are full, up from just 20 percent two weeks ago.
Mitsotakis said the government would financially support citizens affected by the lockdown, including an increase in emergency income support for workers on suspended contracts.