Greece’s retail sector reopens after lockdown with mixed feelings
Hope infusion
Published: Apr 08, 2021 04:03 PM
An outdoor restaurant in Santorini Island in Greece Photo: AFP

An outdoor restaurant in Santorini Island in Greece Photo: AFP

Retail shops across Greece, except for three regions with heavy epidemiological loads, reopened their doors to customers on Monday, after almost three months of closure due to a COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Shop owners in Athens had mixed feelings of optimism and pessimism towards the reopening of their business, as quarantine continues, and the number of infections remains high.

The image was familiar as they once reopened for business for a few weeks before the Christmas and New Year holidays in 2020. In the spring of 2020, they remained shut for several weeks during the first lockdown.

Officials greenlit the easing of a few restrictions last week to relieve lockdown fatigue and restart the economy. But the pedestrian streets and stores in the city center were still rather empty on Monday, as visits to retail shops are only allowed by appointment to avoid gatherings in closed spaces.

People were allowed a three-hour window to leave home, make their purchases, and return, while just one shopping trip per day is permitted.

"This is not what we wanted, but it is a start, and we want to send a message of optimism that after such a long time in quarantine with businesses closed, there is a glimmer of optimism," Athens Chamber of Tradesmen President, Ioannis Chatzitheodosiou, told the media, as a group of officials visited a popular commercial street near the parliament building.

George Kavvathas, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Restaurant and Related Professions, did not share the same optimism, as the catering sector remains closed. The government said that it would most likely open after the Greek Christian Orthodox Easter which falls on May 2 this year.

"The most important for catering (sector) is that it cannot operate with one step forward, two steps back... Otherwise, the sector faces collapse. Today, 50 percent of catering businesses have zero cash flow," Kavvathas said. According to a recent survey carried out for the chamber, 43 percent of restaurant and cafe owners are mulling over permanent closure. 

The government has allocated billions of euros since last year to support businesses, employees, the self-employed, and the jobless, as the economy loses about 1.4 billion euros (1.65 billion US dollars) per month during the lockdown, according to the Finance Ministry's estimates.

Nikos Papathanasiou, Development and Investments Deputy Minister, said on Monday that the state will support entrepreneurship and employment as long as the crisis continues. He voiced confidence that soon the image will look much brighter.

"We believe that soon, thanks to vaccinations, self-testing, rapid tests, and the improved weather conditions, we will be able to proceed to the restart of other sectors of the economy as well," he said.

"You all stay strong, be cautious, and I am certain that we will soon exit this tunnel," Giorgos Patoulis, the regional governor of Attica, added.

However, standing a few meters further, representatives of entrepreneurs said that the relief measures were not enough to cover their huge needs.

Eirini Spirilioti owns a small family business in the center of Athens. They mainly sell jewelry and faux bijoux. For the reopening this spring they stocked their shelves with handmade Easter candles. 

"People show interest, they want to exit their homes and buy something for Easter. We hope that we will not close again. We are trying to observe all measures imposed, and I think people will be careful also so that the retail sector remains open," she told Xinhua.

In order to stay afloat she had to suspend the employment contract of her sole employee. Until the family business returns to full operation, the state gives an allowance and covers contributions to social insurance funds for all employees with employment contracts suspended due to the lockdown.

Marios Mais, the owner of an apparel store nearby, is not optimistic.

"With restrictions on movement across the city center, the number of cases high, and the current psychology of consumers, we cannot be optimistic when a sector is reopening under such circumstances. Businesses need, let's say, social cohesion to operate normally, and we don't have it," he told Xinhua.

"We are opening today, keeping in mind that we will most likely close again," he said.

Mais had two employees before the lockdown. Now there is only one left who is also on a suspended employment contract.

On Monday authorities registered 1,866 new coronavirus infections and 73 deaths in the last 24 hours.

More than 1.8 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country. Over 650,000 people have received both doses, according to the latest official figures released on Sunday. 

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