ATHENS — Greece says its tourism services will open on May 15 when a ban on travel between different regions of the country will also be lifted.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the announcement in a televised address Wednesday, adding that restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen outdoor areas starting on May 3.
Restrictions, many of which have been in effect since early November, will remain in place over Orthodox Easter on May 2.
“Our goal is to have a safe Easter and a free summer. But one cannot undermine the other,” Mitsotakis said.
“That’s why we should not travel at Easter. Athens and other cities still have many COVID cases. Mass movement carries the risk of spreading the virus everywhere.”
Despite the lockdown measures, Greece has struggled to contain a flare-up in cases that started in late January, and its mortality rate remains above the European Union average. The cumulative death toll reached 9,713 on Wednesday. Tourism is a key industry for the Greek economy, and travel receipts last year sank by more than 75% from 2019, dropping from 18.2 billion euros to 4.3 billion euros ($21.9 billion to $5.2 billion). The slump, together with the impact of domestic lockdown measures helped push Greece into recession, with gross domestic product plummeting by 8.2% last year.
On Monday, Greece lifted quarantine restrictions for travelers from EU member states, the U.S., Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, Israel, and non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that are part of a European travel pact. Travelers from those countries are no longer be subject to a seven-day quarantine requirement.
After the holidays, schools will reopen on May 10 for grades 1 through 9. Students in the final three grades returned to class on April 12.
Church of Greece said Tuesday it would allow the faithful to take part in Orthodox Easter services next week but limit attendance and hold the services earlier in the day to conform with a government-imposed curfew.
The decision comes despite Greece reporting a high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and as the country’s hospitals are struggling to treat unprecedented numbers of intubated patients. Orthodox Easter services were canceled last year, when Greece had much fewer confirmed cases.
The Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, said after a virtual meeting Tuesday that worshippers “must by no means be deprived of participation in the joy of the Resurrection,” normally celebrated with a midnight service late on Holy Saturday.
This year, services will start in church courtyards at 9 p.m. on May 1, followed by a liturgy indoors. The timing would allow worshippers to be home in time for the 10 p.m. curfew. Services will also start earlier on other days during Holy Week, which starts Monday, and indoor attendance at Greece’s churches will be limited to one person per 25 square meters (270 square feet), reaching a maximum of 100.
Orthodox Easter is the most popular date on Greece’s religious calendar. Large crowds flock to Holy Week services, join in candle-lit mourning processions on Good Friday, and often rowdy Resurrection celebrations accompany church services at midnight on Holy Saturday.