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Greece keeps lid on Orthodox Easter events as it eyes tourism season

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36 year-old Vasilis Tsipiras receives his first dose of the of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center in Piraeus, near Athens, April 29, 2021.
36 year-old Vasilis Tsipiras receives his first dose of the of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center in Piraeus, near Athens, April 29, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
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Worshippers lined up at churches across Greece on Orthodox Good Friday as the government kept pandemic restrictions in place through the Easter holiday while preparing to restart services for tourists.

Seating restrictions were put on church services and priests had instructions to get tested daily for COVID-19, while police maintained checkpoints along highways to enforce a domestic travel ban.

Many restrictions in effect since early November will be scrapped, however, starting Monday, when restaurants and cafes will be allowed to serve customers outdoors.

Tourism-related businesses and services are set to start operating again on May 15.

In the northern city of Thessaloniki, churchgoer Yiannis Gaitanidis said he was happy to attend a Good Friday service since Greece's churches were closed to the public last Easter.

“Church attendants found us seats so that we could observe social distancing,” Gaitanidis said. “Every religious icon is disinfected each time a person approaches it.”

Orthodox churches use different reference dates to calculate when Easter occurs, which can be up to four weeks later than the holiday marked by other branches of Christianity.

Easter processions set for late Friday in Greece will have limited attendance and mostly take place on church grounds, while Saturday night services will start earlier due to curfew restrictions.

The country has recorded more than 10,300 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 343,000 infections, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.