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World News

Greece to keep schools, restaurants shut until after Christmas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said on Monday that it will not re-open schools, restaurants and courts until Jan. 7, effectively extending most of the restrictions the country imposed last month to contain the spread of coronavirus.

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Greece had to enforce a nationwide lockdown in November, its second this year, after an aggressive surge in COVID-19 cases. It has extended it twice since then, most recently until Dec. 14.

In a televised briefing, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the health system was still under enormous pressure and some restrictions should not be lifted until next month, including a night curfew and movement between regions.

Apart from schools, courts and restaurants, gyms and ski facilities are also expected to remain shut during the Christmas season, he said.

Seasonal shops, selling only Christmas items, reopened on Monday for a few days. By the end of the week, the government will make further decisions on the operation of churches, hair salons and the retail sector, Petsas said.

Greece has registered 115,471 cases of coronavirus and 3,003 deaths in total.

In an interview with a Greek television station broadcast on Monday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said vaccinations in the country could start early in January after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approves the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“According to the latest update, I expect that the first vaccine by Pfizer will be approved by the European Medicines Agency on Dec. 30,” Mitsotakis said.

Greece was then expected to get the vaccine within two days from the approval and start vaccinations immediately, he said.

The country imposed its first nationwide lockdown soon after its first COVID-19 cases surfaced in February.

With an economy emerging after a decade-long debt crisis, Greece was forced to reopen its vital tourism sector, its main cash earner, during the peak summer season. It has seen a rapid rise in cases since October, mainly in northern Greece, where hospitals are still operating at almost full capacity.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou, editing by Ed Osmond

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