The Greek government has announced that, as of next month, all indoor eateries, bars, clubs and entertainment venues will be off limits for citizens who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.
The blanket ban was among a slew of draconian measures unveiled by the health minister as the country – ensnared in a fourth wave of the pandemic – battles a steep rise in coronavirus cases and deaths.
“These measures aren’t punitive,” the health minister, Vassilis Kikilias, said on Tuesday. “They are our duty to all those who went through 18 months of the pandemic carefully, those who lost their shops, jobs and had to work from home to protect themselves.”
Under the regulations, projected to be in place from 13 September to 31 March, people who have recovered from coronavirus will also be granted access to establishments that range from tavernas to upmarket restaurants, late-night clubs and bars.
Free testing for those who have been vaccinated will continue.
But Kikilias, who described the restrictions as the obligation of “a responsible state”, said clients would have to provide proof they had been inoculated, or had recovered from the disease, with verification checks conducted at premises’ entrances through an app that scans Covid-19 certificates.
The same rule will apply for indoor and open-air sports stadiums.
Other venues, including theatres, cinemas, museums and archaeological sites, will allow access to people who have not had the vaccine but only if they provide proof of a negative rapid test conducted within 48 hours. Rapid tests, which are currently free of charge, would cost €10 for all those who had not been vaccinated, he said.
From September, workers in both the public and private sector who are not vaccinated will also be required to have at least one rapid test per week. Those employed in academia, tourism, restaurants, cafes, bars and other forms of entertainment, as well as school and university students, will be obliged to undergo rapid tests twice a week with only school pupils eligible for free tests.
An estimated 5.6 million people have been fully inoculated in Greece, a nation of roughly 11 million. But with strong resistance to the vaccine among the elderly and the young, infection rates in recent weeks have risen steadily alongside fatalities, hospital admissions and intubations. On Tuesday, health authorities announced 4,608 new cases – the highest number since the outbreak of the pandemic – bringing the total confirmed diagnoses to 566,812. The death toll climbed to 13,455 as another 32 fatalities were also announced.
About 91% of Covid-19 patients in Greece’s intensive care wards are unvaccinated, according to officials in the centre-right government.
In a health system badly hit by stringent cuts and other austerity policies forced on the country during its near decade-long debt crisis, ICU beds for those infected with the virus are at more than 68% capacity.
“Thanks to the vaccine, we will not convert our hospitals again to prioritise those who are seriously ill with Covid,” said Kikilias, adding that with vaccines now freely available, it was out of the question that professional, financial and social lives would “be suspended”.
“The contrary would be both unfair and unethical towards the majority of citizens who have been vaccinated and are not suffering from other illnesses, and of course have a right to proper care.”
Healthcare and care home workers who refuse to have the shot would be suspended from their jobs as of 1 September,Kikilias said, confirming there would be no grace period for people who refused to comply as Greece’s battle against the Delta variant of the coronavirus intensified.
Last week, Germany declared several parts of the tourist-reliant nation, including some of its most popular islands, high-risk areas, forcing unvaccinated travellers returning from Greece into five days of isolation. There is wide speculation that the UK will follow suit this week.