Greece will further extend COVID-19 restrictions in Athens and other areas to rein in fast-spreading infections and ease pressure on its stretched health system, Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said on Friday.

A lockdown in the metropolitan area of Athens – where half of the country’s 11 million population lives – will be extended to March 22, rather than end on March 16 as previously planned.

“The finish line is visible,” Hardalias told a regular briefing. “Every day, every vaccine brings us closer to the end of this adventure,” he said, calling for continued vigilance.

Schools and non-essential shops are closed and night-time curfews have been in force in Athens and other so-called “red zone” areas since last month.

As more regions entered a full lockdown, Hardalias said online learning would continue until March 29. The retail sector will reopen when the epidemiological data improves, he added.

With about 7,000 coronavirus-related deaths in total, Greece has fared better than many other European countries.

Authorities have tightened and loosened movement restrictions since November, hired health staff and set up new intensive care units to fight the pandemic.

Restrictions have been extended to help relieve pressure on hospitals that were already strained by a decade-long financial crisis and have struggled to treat 4,032 COVID-19 patients.

Private hospitals were enlisted this week to treat COVID-19 patients in Athens.

Some 2,405 new daily cases were reported on Friday, bringing the total infections in the country to 217,018.

“The epidemiological load is still high despite restrictions,” epidemiologist Vana Papaevangelou said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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