After weeks of mixed messages from ministers and with the COVID-19 epidemic raging in Attica, the government has finally decided to ban movement between prefectures for Greek Easter, which is on 2 May this year.
“The government proposes that inter-regional movement not be permitted for Easter,” government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni said in an interview with SKAI this morning.
Noting that Prime Minister has not yet decided when to make a nationally televised address on the issue, she declared that at this juncture one cannot risk a grand Easter exodus due to the epidemiological situation.
The decision will have the greatest impact on the prefecture of Attica, which is home to nearly half of the country’s population and which has a very high viral load at the moment.
Traditionally, Greeks return to their ancestral villages for Easter and Athens transforms into a ghost town.
Protecting the provinces
A key consideration for the government was the risk of a major transmission of the virus to the provinces, which over many decades have been depopulated due to Greece’s major demographic problem and the mass relocation of the population to urban centres.
Though clearly it is a political decision as the government naturally has the last word, in her remarks Peloni suggested that the government is proposing the travel ban and that the National Committee on COVID-19 will make the call.
The unusual turn of phrase is attributable to the backlash from the recent leak of the minutes of two meetings of the Committee, which critics in opposition parties and a number of media outlets say demonstrate that the Committee of professors, doctors, and scientific researcher follows the orders of the government in delivering its expert opinion.
Until the leak, the government had steadfastly refused opposition calls for the release of the minutes of all the meetings.
The government argued that such a move would maker expert reluctant to express their views in the Committee, which will meet today. The government is expected to formally announce its decision after the meeting.
“We shall await the proposal of the Committee. The government’s position is to ban movement between prefectures so as not to risk the transmission of the virus from areas with a heavy viral load to other regions of the country,” Peloni said.
Orthodox Church, government agree on Holy Week services
The dire nature of the situation became glaringly obvious this week as the government and the Orthodox Church of Greece in an unprecedented move decided that the Resurrection service that is traditionally held at midnight on Easter eve to be held at 9pm at churches nationwide so as to avert COVID-19 super-spreading events.
Most practicing Orthodox Christians flock to churches shortly before midnight for the crowded Resurrection service where candles are lit and shortly after the chanting of the hymn «Christos Anesti or Christ is Risen” flock to their homes for extended family dinners.
Experts have said that a high percentage of new COVID-19 cases derive from transmission within the home.
Peloni also said that on Easter Sunday a maximum of two families can gather in each home for the traditional Easter luncheon.