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Greece eyes lifting COVID curbs in retail before end-March, tourism in May

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions in the retail sector and open schools before the end of March and begin to re-open the tourism sector in May ahead of the vital summer season, a government spokeswoman said on Monday.

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The decision hinges on epidemiological data, Aristotelia Peloni told reporters.

In the mid-term, as vaccinations progress, the government plans to allow outdoor dining in April and to restart tourism, which accounts for about a fifth of Greece’s economic output and employs one in five people.

How the sector fares will be crucial for the country which is slowly emerging from a decade-long debt crisis but which has seen its economy shrink sharply due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Greece’s Finance Minister Christos Staikouras told a Greek radio station on Monday the government’s baseline scenario is to reopen parts of the economy on March 22.

“Two weeks of lockdown accounted for public spending and lost taxes of 1.2 billion euros ($1.42 billion), including 520 million euros from retailers,” he said.

Greece, which has suffered 6,758 COVID deaths, was recently forced to extend a lockdown in the wider Athens region to March 16 due to a resurgence in infections but Peloni said there were signs of hope ahead.

“We still have tough days ahead of us. But we running the last mile in this marathon race,” she said.

The country registered 1,142 cases and 53 COVID-related deaths on Sunday. It has recorded a total of 205,120 infections since its first case emerged a year ago and its health sector, badly weakened during the financial crisis, has been struggling.

Most recently, with 466 patients currently intubated, authorities have been increasingly concerned about COVID admissions in state hospitals as most of them are operating at full capacity.

($1 = 0.8430 euros)

Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos

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