Symi in particular and Greece in general has changed a lot in the last week or so. On Tuesday afternoon I was at an elegant tea party in Chorio, nibbling crustless smoked salmon sandwiches and eyeing the dishes of whipped cream and strawberries when suddenly various phones around the table went ‘ping’. All the mothers of school-age children discovered that the schools were closing down for a fortnight with immediate effect. That was the start.
The next day, when the WHO declared the pandemic, the messages on phones and in social media gained momentum. Schools and universities closed, as well as clubs, indoor play grounds, kindergartens, art galleries, museums, archaeological sites, cafes, bars, restaurants, tavernas, department stores, shopping malls and, eventually also tourist hotels (shut until 30 April) and finally, last night, the borders with Albania and North Macedonia and the sea border with Italy. Cruise ships, which had been using Rhodes as a kind of bolt hole after being turned away from Limassol in Cyprus and Haifa in Israel are now barred from stopping in Greece. The directive also includes sailing yachts so anyone who over winters their boat in the cheap marinas of nearby Turkey may have a problem if their paperwork expires before the ban is lifted.
We are all supposed to be self-isolating as much as possible, something which the state has been having difficulty in implementing, hence the increasingly draconian shut downs. For example, Saturday was an unseasonably sunny spring day so all the bored Athenians who could not while away the time in their usual fashion, in cafes, galleries and the like, headed for the beach. Understandable but when several thousand people head for the beach they are not exactly following the principles of isolation that were intended by the closures. Hasty legislation followed, shutting down organised beaches as well as ski resorts.
The police are actively going round, ensuring that businesses that should be closed are doing so. Only supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries, take aways and banks are allowed to be open at the moment and that is within certain parameters. The number of people inside at any one time is limited and safe spacing must be maintained. This morning legislation kicks in, limiting the number of people in supermarkets at any one time to 1 per every 10 square metres and they should maintain a distance of at least 2 meters apart in the check out queue.
Symi is very quiet. The cafes and bars in Chorio and Yialos that are normally open all year round are sealed up with their chairs stacked on their tables. Scena in Chorio and the International Taverna in Yialos which had been open through the winter are offering take away food and I have noticed on the Rhodian newsfeeds that many Rhodian restaurants are also announcing that they will be keeping their kitchens open for take aways and deliveries. With the law coming through at such short notice they have perishable stock that needs using up and there is no knowing how long these closures will last. The fact that late Saturday night it was announced that tourist hotels and holiday accommodation were to remain closed until at least 30 April means that there won’t be much trade apart from locals.
I must get on now with sorting tins and bottles and making a shopping list in case we have to stay at home completely. More tomorrow!