Coming Out of Quarantine

On Monday 4 May the first steps began to ease up on the measures first implemented on 29 February to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Greece.  We no longer have to send an SMS or carry a permit to be allowed out of our homes – unless we have just returned from somewhere else in which case the strict 14 day police-controlled quarantine still applies, in which event no amount of paperwork allows you out until the days are done.  Smaller shops where numbers can be easily controlled have been allowed to re-open. This includes bookshops, electronics shops, hardware shops, shoe shops and clothing shops.  In the case of the latter, strict regulations are in force to prevent clothes from being contaminated and you really need to know your size as trying things on is not allowed at this point.  More shops will be allowed to open on 11 May.

Masks must be worn in enclosed places including public transport such as buses, trains, the metro and so on.  This last isn’t much of an issue on Symi.  The bus has been mothballed for the duration and Lakis is using one of his hire cars – with one passenger at a time, travelling on the back seat.  Unnecessary journeys are still frowned upon and it is not permitted to travel between islands or outside ones prefecture for the time being.  Drivers are now allowed to have two passengers in their vehicles now, instead of one.  Gatherings are still limited to a maximum of 10 people and are generally still discouraged.  We can go swimming but not at organised beaches and not in large groups.  There are still restrictions in place regarding private boats and amateur fishing as the authorities don’t want anyone sneaking off to other islands or travelling illegally between the mainland and the islands, potentially taking the virus with them.

15 May is the day when it will be decided how the country goes forward as by that point it will be clear if there has been an up-tick in infections as a result of increased mobility and social interaction.

Restaurants and cafes may be allowed to open on 1 June, if all goes well. This would be with reduced clientele, greater spacing between tables and strict hygiene measures in place.

As things stand at the moment, all-year-round hotels should be allowed to reopen on 15 June and international hotels on 1 July.  These dates, however, have not been confirmed and are dependent on how the figures run.  There are also no firm dates for when international tourism will resume.  Although tourism is responsible for about 20% of Greece’s economy and, in the islands, practically the only significant source of revenue, re-opening the doors to foreign visitors also brings with it the potential threat of a ‘second wave’ of infection which could be much harder to control.  The quality of the tourist product also has to be considered – would people still come if they can’t go clubbing in crowded Mykonos nightspots or line up like sardines in a row on organised beaches?  Perhaps this will be the year the tide turns back to the things that are uniquely Greek – history, culture, archaeology, museums – things which cannot be found elsewhere and which can, actually, be easier to make safe for visitors and locals alike. Only time will tell.

If you look carefully at the photograph, there is a cat, suspended in a special cat bed so that it can look out at the passing parade.  At the moment I think many of us feel like that cat.  Watching to see what happens next before we venture back out into a world that is likely to be very different to the one we saw in on 1 January 2020.

Symi April Blues

 

Human tourists might be unable to travel but the migratory birds have no such problems.  The barn swallows are nesting in quiet corners of Pedi and every evening we hear the owls calling across the valley.

As 1 May is a big holiday in Greece and falls on a Friday this year, once again a strict vehicle curfew will be in place for that weekend to prevent people leaving the cities to head for country houses and islands.  Effectively the lock down definitely remains in place until at least 4 May for this reason.  We are, however, expecting an announcement, either this evening or tomorrow, outlining the proposed stages for re-opening the country. Starting with easily controllable businesses such as bookshops and hair dressers and, eventually, seasonal hotels.

We have already been told that the most we can hope for is a 3 month tourist season, from 1 July to 30 September, with various restrictions in place concerning which country nationals will be allowed in and what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of both the tourists and the locals. This is all being hammered out with the EU as a whole to make a co-ordinated plan.  Proposals including opening up the larger hotels first but reducing the number of rooms occupied as it is easier to impose social distancing in larger premises, replacing buffets with table service, changing bars so that drinkers sit at spaced tables with table service and so on.

It will be interesting to see how the airlines tackle the issues of social distancing, disinfection and hygiene and still keep their planes in the air.  We saw huge changes in the travel industry after September 11 but this is going to be even more momentous.  Even if people like Mike O’Leary of Ryan Air complain about the costs involved and refuse to fly within the limitations unless the state picks up the shortfall, the reality is that airlines are going to have a hard time persuading people to travel on their planes unless they feel safe.  With awareness of the importance of hygiene at an all time high, the average person is more likely to be conscious of just what might be lurking on armrests, tray tables, back rests, upholstery and the like, not to mention plastic bins at security checks, airport seating and so on.  It is not just the recycled air which people have been complaining about for years.  Now the threat is not just catching a cold or flu. Unlike trains, buses and other forms of public transport which are a daily necessity for many people to get to and from work, it is rare for flying to be essential so consumers have the luxury of the last word.

We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Adriana

 

 

Symi Palm Sunday 2020

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Looking across Pedi bay from the marina jetty on the north side.

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Every colour tells a story as this abandoned house in Chorio sheds layers of tinted lime wash.
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Wild chamomile.  The sun brings out the scent and they really do smell like apples.
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Still lots of daisies around to keep the sheep and goats happy.
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The plum trees are the last to flower.
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There are four inscrutable cats in this photo.

A week ago we had a tremendous storm from the south east, driving into Pedi bay and dumping tons of sand, stones and potsherds along the waterfront.  A few days later we had a big slow moving thunderstorm rumble in from the north east and deposit several hours of soaking rain over the island. Since then it has been sunshine all the way.  The temperatures are rising steadily and there is no more rain on the long range forecast.

This year the lambs and kids have a reprieve.  No spit roasts and big family celebrations on Easter Sunday – you can only socialise with the people who live permanently under the same roof so the usual mass gatherings of friends and relations from far and wide are banned.

The lock down on schools, universities, cultural venues, sports and so on has been extended to 10 May.  Although there is some speculation that there will be a tentative opening up of restrictions including some hotels by June this is still very much hypothetical as it depends not just on how Greece gets through Easter and the 1 May holidays but also what happens in other countries.  If you read the article I have linked to above, there certainly aren’t any plans to allow visitors from countries seriously affected by the virus, such as the UK, USA, France, Italy and the usual markets to arrive any time soon.  The indications are that priority will be given to opening up tourism to countries that have handled the virus well and have a low level of infection such as Israel, Cyprus, the Balkan states, Lebanon and some Arabic countries.

Meanwhile, here on Symi, effectively no one can leave unless they have medical reasons to travel to Rhodes such as chemotherapy or dialysis or other urgent on-going treatment. As Rhodes is effectively closed apart from some supermarkets there wouldn’t be much point in going over for a day anyway. There isn’t even anywhere to go for coffee or lunch when one gets there!

Some hotels and seasonal businesses are steadily continuing with their annual maintenance schedules, repainting, repairing and so on, so that when the restrictions are eventually lifted they are ready to roll.  It is fairly low-key, however, as hardware stores and other suppliers are closed and people are working with reduced work crews and whatever materials that they already had in hand at the time of the lock down.  No trips to specialist shops in Rhodes to browse fittings and fixtures.

There is talk of implementing a voucher system for hotels to cope with Easter cancellations so to try to cushion the impact of possibly having to issue a huge number of refunds at once.  There is also a lot of discussion about other ways to help the economy get through this including reducing VAT back to more acceptable levels and shedding some of the other onerous taxes that have been imposed in recent years.  We shall see what happens.

Happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating this weekend.  Next weekend is our turn.

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

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

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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.