No cafes, no tourists: Virus empties streets of old Athens

International

An elderly man walks along a nearly empty street of Psiri, in central Athens, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Outbreaks of COVID-19 prompted Greece to impose two countrywide lockdowns, in the spring, keeping infection rates low, and in the fall as authorities scrambled to cope with a rampant rise in cases. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — It’s been a while since visitors to Greece sought out souvenirs in Athens’ oldest neighborhood.

The winding streets of Plaka, laid out long before the city imported a grid system, are lined with closed stores behind aluminum shutters. The coronavirus pandemic has kept tourists away from the historic city center that forms a semi-circle around the Acropolis, and the area remained unusually devoid of pedestrians and motorists before Christmas.

In their absence, ancient monuments are a little easier to make out from a distance, fewer horns are sounding in traffic and homeless cats parked in front of cafes are a little less aloof.

Greece so far has imposed two nationwide lockdowns since the start of the pandemic. The first, in the spring, kept the country’s infection rates low. Authorities ordered the second in response to a rapid post-summer rise in reported cases and as of Christmas Eve has seen 4,4,57 confirmed virus-related deaths.

The restrictions have closed bars, restaurants, coffee shops and many other businesses considered non-essential but which make up a large slice of Greece’s tourism-dependent economy.

The number of visitors traveling to the country plummeted 76.1% during the first 10 months of 2020 compared to a year earlier. Spending sank 77%, according to central bank data released this week.

Greece is expected to see a 10.5% contraction of its gross domestic product this year compared to the forecasted EU average of 7.4%, while its debt-to-GDP ratio is set to surge to a staggering 208.9%.

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