NEWS

Bid to tackle large crowds in squares has government rethinking cafe opening

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There are growing concerns in the ranks of the government over a trend of large crowds gathering in public squares in Athens and other cities in contravention of regulations banning groups of more than 10 people and dictating social distancing.

Government officials are cautiously considering their options for tackling the phenomenon without undermining a broader strategy to gradually lift lockdown measures.

One scenario involves the possible opening of restaurants and cafes earlier than the scheduled date of June 1, possibly on May 25. The reasoning is that the citizens who are currently flocking to squares will have other options if open-air dining and drinking resumes. 

However, officials are keen to ensure that the issue does not become politicized following criticism by the opposition and on social media of interventions by police in squares with large crowds. 

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis broached the issue in comments on Monday. “Gathering in crowds in squares without observing rules of basic hygiene is not a form of resistance,” he said, noting that the pandemic is not an opportunity for political or ideological clashes. 

Mitsotakis took the opportunity to stress the importance of “collective cooperation and an individual sense of responsibility” to ensure that Greece’s success in containing the spread of the new coronavirus continues and there is no backsliding. 

There are hopes that the lifting of restrictions on traveling beyond one’s region of residence from next week will also lead to crowds dwindling in cities.