Cafes, restaurants reopen in Greece for outdoor service

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Cafes and restaurants reopened in Greece on Monday for sit-down service for the first time in nearly six months, as the country began easing coronavirus-related restrictions with a view to opening the vital tourism industry in the summer.

Cafes, restaurants and bars, which had been shut to all but takeout and delivery services when lockdown-type measures were imposed in early November, reopened for outdoor seated service only. Tables are set a certain distance apart to maintain social distancing, while standing customers and music aren’t allowed.

The reopening comes on a national holiday, the day after Orthodox Easter, and many people took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to head to sidewalk cafes.

A maximum of six customers are allowed per table, while staff must carry out compulsory coronavirus home self-tests. A nightly curfew that was in force from 9 p.m. is being pushed back to 11 p.m. as of Monday, with bars, restaurants and cafes allowed to remain open until 15 minutes before curfew.

In recent weeks, the curfew had been largely ignored, with bars and cafes serving drinks for takeout, and crowds of customers forming outside, standing on sidewalks and in nearby apartment entrances.

Greece has been gradually easing restrictions despite stubbornly high infection rates and hospitalizations that have strained its health system. The country of about 11 million people has seen nearly 10,500 deaths and 346,500 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest figures available from Saturday.

Tourism is a vital industry for the country, and tourism-related businesses and services are scheduled to reopen on May 15.

Greece’s vaccination drive has been picking up pace, with the vaccine appointment booking system now open to all those ages 30 and over. So far, the country has administered just over 3 million vaccines, with just over 2 million of those being first doses and more than 944,000 people being fully vaccinated with both doses. As of Wednesday, Greece will also start administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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