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Greece expands restrictions to contain Omicron variant surge

intensive care unit at sotiria hospital in athens
File photo: A hospital in Athens

Greece on Monday announced further restrictions effective from Jan. 3-16 to contain a further upsurge in COVID-19 infections including the Omicron variant, targeting mainly night-time entertainment venues.

As confirmed new COVID-19 cases surged to a record of 9,284 on Monday, resulting in 66 deaths, the health minister said that under the new measures, high-protection masks would be compulsory at supermarkets, public transport and eating establishments.

Bars and restaurants will have to close at midnight and no standing customers at entertainment venues will be allowed. There will also be a maximum limit of six people per table.

“If we find that these measures are not complied with we will ban music (at entertainment venues),” Health Minister Thanos Plevris told a news conference.

The government also moved to restrict attendance of sports events to 10% of capacity or an upper limit of 1,000 people.

Visitors at care facilities for the elderly will be permitted if they can furnish a negative PCR test taken within the previous 48 hours.

Authorities had already tightened existing regulations last week, mandating mask wearing in open spaces and banning Christmas and New Year festivities.

“We are entering the (period of) prevalence of the Omicron variant in Greece,” Plevris said.

In the metropolitan Athens area the government plans to ask private sector hospitals to assist the public health system, if necessary, to cope with hospitalisations.

Plevris asked those who will be celebrating New Year’s Eve to “protect their loved ones” and avoid contact if they expose themselves to public gatherings during the holidays.

Greece already had in place restrictions on unvaccinated persons using outdoor or indoor venues. Last week, it ordered double masks or masks offering high protection for persons using public transport or in supermarkets.

Health experts believe Omicron is more contagious than earlier strains of the coronavirus, but two studies in the past week suggest those affected were less likely to require hospital treatment.

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