Athens (AFP) – Restaurants and cafes across Greece opened ahead of schedule Monday as the country prepared to launch a shortened tourism season vital to its economy.
But with social distancing rules limiting businesses to around 50-percent capacity, and only outdoor tables allowed, many owners questioned the wisdom of reopening after a lockdown of over two months.
“We have to disinfect everything all the time… we’d have to hire someone to clean up and keep track of the customers… but are unable to do that,” cafe owner Vangelis Daskalopoulos told AFP in Athens.
“I don’t know how we’re going to manage,” he said, adding that he was torn between his fear of the virus and the need to keep his business running.
In cafes like his, a mandatory minimum distance of between 70 cm (28 inches) to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) between seats is required, and a maximum of six seated customers per table is allowed.
Despite the misgivings of some like Daskalopoulos, patrons were happy for the chance socialise in cafes again.
“I’m thrilled to break the isolation of recent months and reconnect with friends,” said pensioner Giorgos Karavatsanis.
“The cafe in Greece has a social dimension, it’s where the heart of the district beats,” he said.
– ‘The difficulties are behind us’ –
But some three in 10 cafes or restaurants were expected to stay closed out of fear of slow business, Nikos Nifoudis of the Thessaloniki Catering Initiative told Athens News Agency over the weekend.
“The sector is very anxious to see how returning to business will play out… no one can predict how confident customers are to return to cafes and restaurants,” he said.
“The difficulties are behind us,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Star television station.
“Of the 1,300 arrivals to Greece from abroad these last few days, no cases of the coronavirus have been detected,” he added.
But he admitted he feared the effect of the crisis on the country’s middle classes and estimated that this year in Greece, the recession would be between five and 10 percent.