Greece's hospitality industry protests against new vaccine rules
Evangelo Sipsas in Athens


Associations representing restaurants and catering businesses in Greece organized strikes and protests across the country on Tuesday, seeking further financial relief from the government following the surge in cases of COVID-19. 

Business owners and workers are angry at restrictions they say are harming their livelihoods. Many restaurants, cafes and bars are closed across the country as union leaders called a 24-hour strike. 

Coffee shop owner Liza Meneretzi says the measures are hard to enforce. 

"Honestly, I cannot be checking certificates like I'm a police officer," she explained. "Most people are fine and don't get bothered, but some are really rude and even swear at me. And of course, there's the financial impact. I've owned this place for over 30 years, I have 10 employees and this is the first time I'm cutting salaries," said Meneretzi.



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The new rules were introduced last Saturday to fight a spike in coronavirus infections. They mainly target unvaccinated people – restricting entry to retail stores, banks, hair salons, and outdoor cafes or restaurants.

Customers must present either a full-vaccination certificate, a negative test result, or a certificate showing they have recovered from the virus within the last six months. Restaurant owners and union leaders say this has led to a drastic reduction in business. 

"This is already a very difficult time for us. The measures taken by the government are affecting our customer numbers," said Giorgos Kavvathas, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Restaurants & Related Professions. 

"We've been experiencing this for about 10 days now. We've seen a reduction in turnover of between 40 and 60 percent. It's devastating,"

According to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, since the start of the pandemic, some 2,000 businesses have already shut down with thousands losing their jobs. 

So, to avoid more going the same way, the protesters are demanding changes, including energy and rent subsidies, exemptions from paying municipal fees – plus a tax cut from 24 to 6 percent.

Union leaders and business owners say the government has turned its back on them, but the minister for development disagrees. 

"We are helping small businesses and this is why Greece has reduced unemployment in the eurozone area during the pandemic," Adonis Georgiadis, minister for development and investments, explained.

"If the government did not help the small businesses, unemployment would've exploded, so we are doing a good job and will continue to do a good job in good faith, with good professionals that we respect," he said.

Greece is falling behind other European nations – with only 61.1 percent of its population fully vaccinated. 

While some feel the latest measures are necessary to get the country moving in the right direction – for others – it's making the prospect of a long and hard winter even worse.

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