Not Much Happening on Symi this Spring

Well, here we are.  Keeping track of the passage of time is easier by looking at the changing vegetation in the valley than by any variations in the day’s routines.  The clocks have changed and the days grow longer.  Trees unfurl their spring greenery and the goats and sheep gorge themselves on a banquet of corona daisies (yes, that really is their name) and purple-blue lupins.  The air smells faintly of sun-warmed chamomile blossom and wild sage.

I don’t know what it is like in the harbour or Chorio as I have not been to either for a fortnight but down in Pedi we have random police patrols to check that everyone is behaving.  The old boys still tend their fields and flocks – farmers, smallholders and apiarists are part of the essential workers and if this year’s tourist season is a total write-off they may be crucial to putting food on the table for many families.  Permits have been devised to allow them to continue to function.  There is also a special permit that allows legitimate animal welfare organisations throughout Greece to continue with animal feeding schemes.

Preventing people from wandering off to do their own thing is, however, proving to be more of a challenge.  As the weather warms up a new prohibition has been brought in, preventing swimming, spear fishing, kayaking and various other water sports. This is not because the government is a bunch of spoilsports.  It is because it is difficult enough to police the streets to restrict unnecessary journeys as it is without having to try to keep an eye on what people are up to along Greece’s incredibly convoluted shoreline and most of these activities are non-essential and tend to attract the company of others.  Only commercial fishing boats are allowed to operate.

A third case of Covid-19 has been diagnosed in Rhodes – a young woman returning to her home on the island from the UK.  Fortunately she was maintaining the required 14 days quarantine when she became ill.

The government is hinting at further movement restrictions and expanding on the SMS system so that it shows the time one returns, not just the time one sets off, for any one of the approved reasons for movement and limiting the number of times any one person may leave home in a day.  This is likely to replace the Document B which those who don’t have Greek mobile phones tend to use.  The SMS system does not work with foreign sim cards, as many expats who have not bothered to buy Greek sims are finding out.

Several villages around Kozani on the mainland have been put under severe quarantine restrictions due to an abnormally high level of contagion in the area and the local power station there has been closed down temporarily to protect the health of workers.

Keep safe, keep indoors – and keep out of the cookie jar!

 

Strange Times

Today’s photograph is of the thermal beach on Kos.  If you dig a little pit in the sand it fills up with warm water from the thermal springs just below the surface.  Put it on your wishlist for when things return to normal.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.  Travel restrictions have been brought in to prevent passengers travelling on ferries to the islands unless they are actually permanent residents on the islands. This was brought in to stop Athenians and others from the mainland bringing the disease into the islands.  So far most confirmed cases are in Athens and northern Greece.  The only confirmed case in the Dodecanese, a health worker at a clinic in Karpathos, was traced back to a visitor from Athens.  As the islands don’t have serious medical facilities – on Symi for example we currently don’t even have a qualified doctor, only interns – it is important to maintain a cordon sanitaire.  When travelling you have to show your passport, your residence card and also your tax certificate as this shows your official place of domicile whereas the residence card simply shows that you are either a temporary or permanent resident of Greece and the EU.

Another big change is that with effect from 6 a.m. yesterday, 23 March, we cannot leave our homes without authorisation and that is for a very limited range of criteria.  The rest of the time we are to stay home.  If we do go out it is singly or in pairs with a distance of 2 metres between us.  When travelling by car only one passenger is permitted in addition to the driver.  People going to work have to complete Form A if self employed or get their employer to fill it in and stamp it if they are employees. This is a one off form to be carried at all times, along with ID or passport and residence permit.  Other activities fall under Form B which can be either a printed form, an SMS or a hand written piece of paper if there is no technology available and this has to be done for every single time one leaves the house.  More details on the official government website link.

 

The number of customers permitted in supermarkets has been further restricted to one every 15 square metres.  This doesn’t apply so much to Symi where the shops are small and people few but in Rhodes the big supermarkets have implemented a system using numbered cards.  Based on the square meterage of the shop they have calculated how many customers they may have in the store at any given time.  There is a staff member, suitably gloved and masked, at the door who hands out a card to each shopper until all the cards are gone.  As each shopper leaves again they hand back the card which is duly sanitised and handed to the next person in line. Simple but effective and nothing fancy required to set up.  Countries like the UK could implement this to reduce the locust-line stripping of supermarket shelves as well as reducing the progress of contagion.  Street markets which are a common shopping venue in Greece are limited to only sell foodstuffs and the stalls have to be 5 metres apart.

Apart from ferries, there have also been major changes to flights with drastic reductions in the number of domestic flights and even bigger ones between Greece and EU/International destinations.  Apart from repatriation flights and freight, there is little movement at the country’s airports.

On the home front, Symi is quieter even than it is in the depths of winter.  The lambs and kids continue to frolic in the daisies.  Solitary people walk their dogs as this is one of the approved activities.  Parents endeavour to home-school their children and various on line classes are streamed.  The churches are closed.  Tomorrow is Greek Independence Day as well as the Annunciation.  Normally this is marked by blazing braziers all round the harbour and leading up to Evangelismos church in Harani.  This year locals will mark the event by putting lanterns on their balconies in the harbour and hanging out flags as all parades are cancelled.

The sunny mild spring weather is expected to break on Wednesday evening as the cold front currently over the Ionian, the mainland and the northern Aegean heads our way.  We could be in for as much as four days of rain.  Psychologically it is much easier to be indoors when it is wet and miserable outside so as long as this is not accompanied by floods this rainy spell is welcomed.  Meanwhile we are all spending far too much time thinking about food. That is probably a universal thing as boredom drives us to the fridge.  Fortunately I have always been a keen reader and thanks to Kobo and Kindle these days one need never run out of books.  Apparently Netflix has reduced the resolution on its streaming service so that the European bandwidth does not collapse under the weight of so many subscribers.

Keep well, keep safe, keep sane and stay at home!

 

 

Life on Symi in Self-Isolation

Here we are on our little island, waist deep in daisies, chamomile fragrant under foot and the hillsides pungent with sage blossom.  When I first came here in the mid-90s March was already a fairly busy time, with walking groups, photographers and artists revelling in the spring spectacle.  This slowly faded away as the tourist season contracted and in recent years Symi has been quiet well into May.  In that sense things don’t feel too different to last year or the year before.  In others, however, the change is dramatic.  No more shopping trips to Rhodes.  No more sociable coffees in cafes.  The old boys can no longer hang out at the cafeneions.  They hang out in their vegetable gardens instead and if the tourist season fails totally a lot of people will be dependent on the family orchard and vegetable plot.  The hairdressers, hardware stores, builders’ merchants and other stores are all closed.  Only supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, the bank and the agricultural suppliers are allowed to remain open.

I was going to post yesterday but kept delaying as we were all waiting to find out if the speculation in the press that the international flights would be stopping with effect from Sunday would be confirmed. So far, however, this has not been made official.

What has been made official is that ALL hotels, not just the seasonal ones for tourists, have to close on Monday until at least the end of April. This was announced at the same time as a fiscal package to help the country get through the difficult times ahead.  Something else that is official is that anyone arriving into the country now has to go into enforced 14 day quarantine.  They have to fill in a form on arrival, detailing among other things where they will be staying and their phone number. Random checks and phone calls will then be made to ensure that they abide by the quarantine regulations.  If they are found to be out and about when they should be at home, the fine is 5000 euros.

Meanwhile more and more islands are requesting that ferry connections be limited to the transport of goods only, in an effort to prevent the import of the virus from the mainland and beyond. Many Athenians are fleeing the big city to head to their country homes in rural areas and in the islands, bringing the virus with them.  This appeal may be too late for the Dodecanese Island of Karpathos which reported its first case last night, a health worker at a clinic on the island.  It is not clear how she became infected as this is one of the most remote islands and the closest diagnosed case so far is in Crete.  Even Mount Athos, which is effectively a state within a state, is closing the gates to pilgrims.

The government is taking the self-isolation, quarantine and business closures very seriously and the police are arresting anyone violating the edicts.

Finally, some good news to come out of all this…  While the requirement for dinky little individual soaps for hotels has dropped, Papoutsanis, Greece’s oldest soap maker, has had to increase production to cope with demand.

Symi Spring in the time of Covid-19 continued

blog 17 March 2020 amphitheatre
Work on building an amphitheatre in the square in Yialos.
blog 17 March 2020 duck
Looking for a mate.
blog 17 March 2020 kids 1
Nanny goats and kids, ewes and lambs are everywhere at the moment, glorying in the spring abundance.
Blog 17 March 2020 Kos lift inside
The sign inside the lift of the hotel we stayed in in Kos.
blog 17 March 2020 Kos lift outside
The sign on the outside door of the same lift. There was just enough room for me and one suitcase. Nicholas took the stairs!

blog 17 March 2020 poppyCyclamen March 2020

It is the wise sailor who makes sure he is in port around the equinox.  Northerly gales up to Beaufort Force 9 are hammering Greece at the moment, disrupting ferry schedules and depositing fresh snow in the mountainous regions.  It is only 10 degrees centigrade on Symi today.  Pedi bay does not look anything like the photograph above which I took a few days ago.  Rolling white caps march past the entrance to the bay today and waves are breaking along the shore line.  The weather is not expected to improve until Thursday.

The newest directives coming through are that anyone coming into Greece from abroad must now go into quarantine for 14 days to limit any new infections arriving in the country.  You will note that the article makes specific mention of people coming in from the UK where little is being done to prevent the spread of contagion.  More shops and businesses are to be closed with effect from tomorrow. At the same time supermarket trading hours have been extended by two hours in the evening and supermarkets are allowed to trade on Sundays for the next 4 weekends. The idea behind this is to reduce crowding and make it easier for shops to enforce the spacing regulations.

More help is also being arranged for the elderly, including reallocating civil servants to helping the needy rather than working directly with the general public.  In the meantime the government has also succeeded in persuading the all-powerful Greek Orthodox Holy Synod to co-operate and reduce church services.

Reports are coming back that the on line tuition system is popular with the children and seems to be working. Early days yet but at least they got things rolling fairly quickly.

More tomorrow.  In journalistic speak, ‘as events unfold’.

Keep well and safe everybody.

Symi Spring in a time of Covid-19

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!