Friday evening, Greek television channels were showing retail store owners in Thessaloniki zealously preparing their shops for the re-opening on Monday. Friday night, the smiles disappeared and optimism was replaced by anger. At an extraordinary meeting a couple of hours in between, the country’s epidemiologists had decided that the virus load in Greece’s second biggest city was much too high to allow citizens going in and out in stores and purchase goods.
Now retailers are furious and threaten to ignore the ruling and open their shops on Monday.
Angered are also their colleagues also in Achaia, north-western Peloponnese, and in Kozani, western Macedonia, as they will not be allowed to open on Monday neither.
What triggered retailers’ anger is that on Wednesday, the Civil Protection had announced that retail would be allowed to open nationwide on April 5.
What changed between Wednesday and Friday?
“The epidemiological situation did not allow retail to open in these areas,” Athanasios Exadaktylos, president of the Panhellenic Medical Association and a member of the Health Ministry’s committee of experts told media.
“The strain on the National Healthcare System in these regions does not allow for the smallest increase in pressure. We saw an increase that we had not right to ignore,” he concluded as he cautioned citizens to remain vigilant.
According to reports, samples from the sewage water in Thessaloniki have shown a significant deterioration of the epidemiological load with an increase by 25% between March 31 and April 1.
At the same time, research has found that the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 seems to be the prevailing strain, while the number of Covid-19 patients’ admission to hospitals and their hospitalization in ICUs is constantly increasing.
The experts recommended no opening of retail in Thessaloniki, Achaia and Kozani and no movement of citizens between municipalities. The government accepted just a part of them.
The government reportedly rejected the experts’ recommendation regarding the intra-municipalities movement- obviously fearing that people would go with stones on the streets after a 5-month-long lockdown that had brought nothing more than increase of coronavirus infections.
In these three regional units, the retail sector will remain closed at least until April 12, 2021, the Civil Protection said in a statement on Saturday morning.
Retail Associations in Thessaloniki and Patras are to hold online meetings over the weekend to decide how to respond to the government decision that has triggered only anger and frustration.
So far, there are reports that at least 100 retailers will open their stores in Thessaloniki, while their colleagues in Patras consider to open their shops and hang out there the whole day as a form of protest.
Sharp criticism comes from the National Confederation of Trade and Entrepreneurship with president Giorgos Karanikas to say that the credibility of government and epidemiologists’ decisions is deeply hurt.
Stressing that containing the coronavirus requires collective effort and solidarity, Karanikas said that essential is also to . deal with its economic consequences in the market and especially in small and medium-sized enterprises that are literally on the verge of collapse.
“This dual national goal is not served by the sudden recommendations of the Infectious Diseases Committee, which within a minimum of 24 hours lead to the cancellation of their previous proposals and consequently the government decisions to open the retail after a tough lockdown of several months.”
Opposition parties lashed out at the government saying that it has no serious plan on how to deal with the pandemic.