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Bar owners on Greek island angry over virus restrictions

MYKONOS – Wary of a rise in daily coronavirus cases that threatens to undo its relative success in containing the pandemic so far, the Greek government is imposing local restrictions on businesses, especially those that cater to big crowds, and business owners on the island of Mykonos don't like it one bit.

“You can’t take a unilateral decision and shut down the island the following day, at midnight,” bar owner Stavros Grimplas told The Associated Press of the government edict on Aug. 10, imposing a midnight closing time on bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants from Aug. 11 until Aug. 23.

“Everyone has come (to Mykonos) to eat their food, to entertain themselves, swim in the sea. At this moment, we are fooling them. We told them ‘come to Greece’ and Greece has shut down," a clearly frustrated Grimplas continued.

When Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis officially declared the tourist season open on June 13, he had said that “there is no risk-free approach.”

Back then, there were 3,112 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 183 deaths. As of Saturday, the total cases were at 6,858, with most of the new ones coming in August, and 226 deaths.

Mykonos is a textbook case of crowds coming together. Off-season, the small island is home to 10,000. In the summer, it welcomes over 2 million visitors who are attracted by its reputation for the high life and a hedonistic lifestyle.

This summer, there will be nowhere near the same number. For one, cruises, which account for about a third of visitors, aren't happening. But people on the island say that hotels are at about 70% capacity, an unheard of number compared to other Greek tourist destinations.

On Saturday afternoon, beaches were quite crowded. After the midnight closing time, large crowds of people were milling around in the town center, many with beers they had bought from a kiosk.

When similar restrictions were first imposed on the island of Poros, near Athens, visitors left in droves. But not in Mykonos.

Businesses are opening earlier to compensate. Owners have signed an angry letter accusing the government of wanting “to render us mere spectators of the destruction of our businesses.” They also demanded to know the data that prompted that decision and asked why the government is not stopping the “illegal parties ... that will blow up the pandemic.”

The parties are held in isolated villas around the island. Invitation is strictly word-of-mouth and tickets are sold at 150 euros (about $180) at a minimum and up to 1,000 (nearly $1,200) for VIP parties, island residents say.

The government says it won't back down from the measures and has indeed extended them to much of the country. From Monday, the midnight closing hours extend to the capital, Athens. And there have been more fines and even arrests for flaunting the rules. A parish priest was arrested in Athens on Saturday for calling on his flock, on Facebook, not to wear masks at Mass on Sunday.

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Demetris Nellas reported from Athens. Thanassis Stavrakis contributed to this report from Mykonos.