Coronavirus: As shops reopen in Greece, owners fear second wave – and second lockdown

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By Michalis Arampatzoglou & Natalie Huet  with AP
A woman wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus exits a shoe store in central Athens, Monday, May 11, 2020, following the reopening of retail shops.
A woman wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus exits a shoe store in central Athens, Monday, May 11, 2020, following the reopening of retail shops.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Most shops in Greece can reopen as the country gradually eases its lockdown measures, but some of their owners are now worried about what comes next.

They fear that if coronavirus infections rise again in the coming weeks or months, and restrictions are reinstated, their businesses would never recover.

"No one would stand this situation again. If this happens again, every shop would close permanently - that's 99.9% certain. Everything would close," says Paris Kouklogiannis, owner of a gift shop in Athens.

"At this point, we are just steps away from going into life support. We had to pay our rents without having an income. We didn’t know how to cover these expenses. It wasn’t because we didn’t have quality products, but because we were shut down," he explains.

Shopping malls and department stores will remain shut across Greece until June 1, but all other retail businesses, including clothing, hardware and beauty product stores, were allowed to reopen on Monday (May 11), with social distancing rules applying to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some shopkeepers used the nation’s nearly two-month lockdown to renovate their stores. Many spent the last couple of days cleaning their outlets from floor to ceiling, stocking up on hand sanitiser and masks and introducing new health and safety measures to welcome customers.

“We want to be and should be optimistic. We hope that people will go out and return to their daily habits,” says clothing shop owner Giannis Xenidis.

However, he complained: "We have missed at least half of the season."

Last week, Greek restaurant owners staged "empty chairs" protests in central Athens and Thessaloniki, saying new social distancing rules will force them to operate well under capacity at a time when they desperately need income.

Steep recession ahead

Greece imposed a nationwide lockdown early in its coronavirus outbreak, a move that has been credited with keeping the number of deaths and severely ill at low levels. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou even told Euronews the country had emerged as an example to many other European states.

On Sunday, health authorities announced no new deaths and just six new confirmed infections, bringing the death toll over 150 and the confirmed infections to more than 2,700 in the country of nearly 11 million.

But while Greece has so far managed to weather the health crisis quite well, it’s expected to be one of the European countries to suffer the most from the pandemic's economic fallout -- even as it had finally showed signs of a recovery after a decade of recession, austerity and sluggish growth.

According to the International Monetary Fund's latest forecasts, Greece’s GDP is now expected to drop by 10 per cent this year. That would make the Greek economy the hardest hit across the entire Eurozone, largely because of its heavy reliance on tourism.

The European Union’s Spring economic forecast is just as grim, predicting a 9.7 per cent drop in Greece’s GDP this year before a 7.9 per cent rebound in 2021.

You can watch Michalis Arampatzoglou's report in the player above.