Greece Inaugurates First ‘Closed’ Camp For Asylum Seekers

This photograph taken on September 18, 2021 shows the new EU-funded multi-purpose RIC (reception and identification centre) of migrants on the island of Samos, Greece, during its inauguration. – The Samos camp will be the first of five new ‘closed’ migrant camps. It has a detention centre and will only be accessible via electronic chip. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Greece on Saturday inaugurated the first of five new “closed” migrant camps, opposed by rights groups who say the strict access measures are too restrictive.

A double barbed wire fence surrounds the 12,000 square metre camp on the island of Samos, which is also installed with surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors.

The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps on Greece’s five Aegean islands — Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios as well Samos — that receive most of the migrant arrivals by sea from neighbouring Turkey.

Within the camp is a detention centre, set up for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected and who are to be sent back to Turkey.

The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, has a detention centre and asylum seekers will only be able to enter via fingerprint scans and electronic badges.

Gates will remain closed at night and disciplinary measures await those who return after eight pm.

The camp boasts sports and games areas, as well as shared kitchens.

Dormitories have five beds each and a cupboard, with shared toilets and showers, an AFP team saw.

“The new closed-controlled access centre will give back the lost dignity to people seeking international protection, but also the necessary conditions of safeguarding and restraint for illegal migrants who are to be returned,” Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said at the opening.

– Living conditions –

The Leros camp is expected to be finished next month, while on Lesbos — home to Moria, Europe’s largest camp, which was destroyed by fire last year — work has yet to begin.

With better quality accommodation, running water, toilets, separate areas for families and more security, the Greek government says that the camps will meet European standards.

They replace facilities that became infamous for their living conditions.

On Samos, the facility near the port of Vathy had been designed for 680 people but at one point was home to nearly 10 times that number.

Asylum seekers still live there — rats, improvised wooden barracks without heating and a lack of toilets and showers continue to be part of their daily lives.

But from Monday, more than 300 residents will be transferred to the new facility five kilometres (three miles) from Samos’s main town of the same name.

Τhe old camp is to be closed by month’s end.

“This is a promise to the local community, but also a commitment of our ministry,” Mitarachi has said, responding to anger among the local community who, for years, watched as the camp ballooned.

– ‘Camps should be open’ –

NGOs and aid groups however have raised concerns about the new camps’ structure in isolated places and residents’ confinement.

Dozens of NGOs, including Amnesty International, accused Greece of pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees”.

They urged the EU and Greek government to abandon plans to restrict the movement of people in the camps.

The UN refugee agency’s representative in Greece, Mireille Girard, also voiced reservations, expressing particular concern at the term “closed camp”.

“We have discussed that with the authorities, it was repeated to us this morning that indeed these will be open centres, she added.

“It is very important that in the new facility people are able to move freely in and out of the camp”.

Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — entered Europe in 2015.

The crisis in Afghanistan has prompted fears of a new migration wave.

According to Mitarachi, the flow of new arrivals has been reduced by 90 percent compared to 2019.

However, humanitarian organisations say the drop is due to illegal pushbacks of migrants by Greek authorities, which the conservative government has repeatedly denied.

AFP

Villages Evacuated As Fresh Wildfires Hit Greece

A picture taken on August 3, 2021 shows a burnt area around Yeniköy Kemerköy thermal Power Plant near Oren, in the holiday region of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades.

 

Scores of firefighters battled to contain two new wildfires in Greece on Monday, as winds fanned the blazes and forced several villages and neighbourhoods to be evacuated.

Both fires erupted not far from the site of devastating wildfires that swept parts of Greece earlier this summer, forcing thousands from their homes and destroying property, wildlife and livestock.

Scientists have warned that extreme weather and fierce fires will become increasingly common due to man-made global warming, and Greece’s prime minister has linked the blazes to climate change.

The first fire broke out in the early hours Monday on southern Evia island, northeast of the capital Athens, and the Greek fire brigade said the blaze was largely contained at noon but had not been brought under control.

Two neighbourhoods were evacuated and several boats were offshore to offer help to contain the fires.

READ ALSO: Rare Tropical Storm Downgraded After Hitting US Northeast

A second fire broke out Monday in Vilia, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) northwest of Athens, in an area of thick forestland.

Greek police blocked traffic on a nearby highway as winds fanned the blaze, while two villages were evacuated in the area as a preventative measure.

“The battle against the fires continues wherever there is a front,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said Monday.

“We have already started repairing damage and providing practical support to those affected,” he added.

The civil protection authorities had warned Sunday a “very high risk” of fire for many areas of Greece on Monday.

Since July, wildfires have ravaged the islands of Evia and Rhodes as well as forests to the north and southeast of Athens and parts of the Peloponnese peninsula. Three people have died in the fires.

An earlier fire in Evia burned for more than 10 days, decimating swathes of land, while another blaze that hit Vilia lasted six days was only declared under control on Saturday.

AFP

Greek Villagers Abandon Island Over Raging Fires

A local uses a megaphone as others observe a large forest fire approaching the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece's second largest island, on August 8, 2021. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP
A local uses a megaphone as others observe a large forest fire approaching the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island, on August 8, 2021. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

 

A police car siren calls for the last residents of the village of Gouves on the Greek island of Evia to evacuate as fire rages down a mountainside and engulfs the first houses.  

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” repeats in sobs a woman on her porch who cannot find the strength to flee even as the approaching inferno turns the sky orange.

The fires remained out of control over large swathes of Evia island on Sunday, as evacuations were continuing, pushing hundreds of people towards the beach.

Many villagers joined the battle, and around 10 men were busy digging, cutting and pulling out branches in an effort to slow the raging fire despite the repeated urging of police to leave.

Forming a human chain, they unrolled water hoses fed by agricultural pick-ups, desperate to save their livelihood.

“If people leave, the villages will burn for sure,” says Yannis Selimis, a young man from Gouves. “We are in the hands of God.”

Tempers flared over a lack of government response.

“Which authorities? Which firefighters? Do you see anybody here?” exclaims one local.

“They burnt our paradise,” says Triantafyllos Konstantinos, 46. “We are done,” he sighs.

“It’s tragic. We are all going to the sea,” says Nikos Papaioannou as the fire steadily encroaches on residential areas near the island’s northern coasts.

Refugees in their own country

At Gouves, cars pass through a vast cloud of smoke as they try to go towards the beach.

Some kilometres away, at the beach of Pefki, a ferry boat docked on the beach and a warship off the coast are waiting to rescue these people who have become refugees in their own country.

They wait without knowing whether they will reach the mainland Sunday evening.

“Evia is finished”, says Cleopatra Plapouta. “People are fighting all by themselves. Not a single firefighter inside the villages,” she complains, wearing a scarf and a mask against the thick smoke and ash.

This picture taken on August 9, 2021 shows burnt trees trunk during a wildfire at the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece's second largest island. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP
This picture taken on August 9, 2021 shows burnt trees trunk during a wildfire at the village of Pefki on Evia (Euboea) island, Greece’s second largest island. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

 

“We are burning for a week now!” her husband exclaims. “The fire started 60 kilometres away! 60 kilometres!”

Shirtless, the greying man gesticulates with despair. “It’s unbelievable! It was a heaven, they burnt it down!”

Maria Moushogianni, who owns a beach hotel where she is shelterin two families who have abandoned their homes, says that Sunday was the first day that airplanes appeared.

“They abandoned us, they lied to us! I’m going to close the hotel and leave,” adds the 66-year-old woman, holding her white cat. “This evening if possible”.

 

AFP

Raging Wildfires Devastate Turkey, Greece

A picture taken on August 3, 2021 shows flames rising from a fire spreading around Yeniköy Kemerköy thermal Power Plant near Oren, in the holiday region of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades.
STR / AFP

 

Turkish coastguards evacuated hundreds of villagers from a burning power plant on Thursday and Greek firefighters battled a major blaze near the ancient Olympic site as a record heatwave wreaked havoc across Europe’s southeast.

The two regional rivals have been united this week in their fight against disasters that officials and experts link to increasingly frequent and intense weather events caused by climate change.

Eight people have died and dozens have been hospitalised across the southern coasts of Turkey since the wildfires erupted last week.

The blazes in Greece this week briefly cut off the main road leading to Athens and saw worrying fires break out in Olympia — the birthplace of the Olympic Games that is usually crowded with tourists — and on the island of Evia.

Greece deployed large forces near Olympia to protect archaeological sites where the first Olympic Games were held in antiquity.

“We’re waging a battle of the titans!” Greek deputy minister for civil protection Nikos Hardalias said.

But perhaps the biggest shock came when winds whipped up a flash fire that subsumed the grounds of an Aegean coast power plant in Turkey storing thousands of tonnes of coal.

‘Where could we go?’

 

People sit on the back of a trailer as wildfires take hold in the Koycegiz district of Mugla on August 3, 2021. Turkey’s struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades come as blistering heatwave grips southeastern Europe creating tinderbox conditions that Greek officials blame squarely on climate change. 
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

 

An AFP team saw firefighters and police fleeing the 35-year-old Kemerkoy plant in the Aegean province of Mugla as bright balls of orange flames tore through the surrounding hills.

Hundreds of villagers — many clutching small bags of belongings grabbed from their abandoned houses as the evacuation call sounded — piled onto coastguard speedboats at the nearby port of Oren.

The regional authority said “all explosive chemicals” and other hazardous material had been removed from the strategic site.

“But there’s a risk that the fire could spread to the thousands of tonnes of coal inside,” regional mayor Osman Gurun told reporters.

A few older villagers in Oren refused to leave the disaster-hit region even while thousands of others were shuttled out by car or boats racing along the Aegean Sea.

“Where do you want us to go at our age?” asked 79-year-old Hulusi Kinic.

“We live here. This is our home. Our last solution was to throw ourselves in the sea (if there was an explosion), but thank God that did not happen.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said an initial inspection showed the overnight blazes left “no serious damage to the main units in the plant”.

 

‘Asking for reinforcements’

 

A picture taken on August 3, 2021, shows a burnt area around Yeniköy Kemerköy thermal Power Plant near Oren, in the holiday region of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

 

More than 100 blazes were still burning in Greece and 180 have ignited in Turkey since July 28 — more than a dozen of them still active on Wednesday night.

The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said July was the second-hottest on record in Europe.

Greece’s Hardalias said earlier this week that the ferocity of the fires ravaging the region meant that “we are no longer talking about climate change but a climate threat”.

The unfolding disasters saw the leaders of both countries come under pressure from local officials for what they felt was an insufficiently resolute response.

“We are asking the authorities to reinforce the air and land forces to so as not to risk human lives,” Limni mayor Giorgos Tsapourniotis told Greece’s ANA news agency.

The Turkish mayor of the town of Milas spent days waging a social media campaign trying to get officials to send firefighting planes that could douse the flames before they engulfed the power plant.

 Erdogan on the defensive

 

A man stands in front of the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant (R) with the blaze approaching in the background, in Milas, near Oren, on August 4, 2021. Rescuers used helicopters and water cannons on August 4, 2021, to beat back fires encircling the Turkish power plant in the second week of deadly blazes testing the leadership of President Recept Tayyip Erdogan.
SERDAR GURKAN / AFP

 

Erdogan has come under especially withering criticism for being slow or unwilling to accept some offers of foreign assistance after revealing that Turkey had no functioning firefighting planes.

The crisis has posed an unexpected challenge to the powerful Turkish leader two years before he faces an election that could extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan tried to mount a political counterattack in a television interview Wednesday that began just as news broke that the fire had reached the Aegean power plant.

“When fires break out in America or Russia, (the opposition) stands by the government, We don’t have this,” Erdogan said.

The prosecutors’ office in Ankara said Thursday it has launched an investigation into social media posts about the fire that were “trying to create anxiety, fear and panic in the public, and to humiliate the Turkish government”.

UEFA Rejects Greek Protest Over North Macedonia Shirt

North Macedonia’s defender Stefan Ristovski takes part in an MD-1 training session at the National Arena in Bucharest on June 16, 2021, on the eve of their UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match against Ukraine. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / POOL / AFP)

 

 

UEFA on Wednesday rejected Greece’s request to change the North Macedonia shirt at Euro 2020 after the Greeks argued that the current version violated a historic treaty between the Balkan neighbours.

Greece said the initials FFM (Football Federation of Macedonia) that feature on the shirt refer to the Balkan country’s name before a 2018 treaty resolved a longstanding diplomatic row between the Balkan neighbours.

UEFA confirmed it had received a letter from the Greek government requesting that the shirt be modified.

But European football’s governing body said it had rejected the request because “UEFA uses the name Football Federation of North Macedonia in all its official communication and has adapted the relevant terminology accordingly, including in the UEFA statutes and with regard to UEFA Euro 2020”.

Until recently, North Macedonia competed under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to avoid ire from Greece, who never accepted the name “Macedonia” because it has a province of the same name.

UEFA did intervene before the tournament to order Ukraine to remove a slogan from its shirt after it angered Russia.

Russia was furious at the slogan — “Glory to the Heroes” — because the words became a rallying cry for pro-Western protesters who ousted a Kremlin-backed leader in 2014.

UEFA ruled that the slogan was “political” but agreed a compromise with the Ukrainian football association which involved covering the slogan with a smaller version of the map of Ukraine.

A larger version of the outline of Ukraine on the front of the shirt includes Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Two Shot Dead On Greek Resort Island Of Corfu

A file photo of Greece flag.

 

Two people were shot and killed on Sunday near a hotel on the Greek resort island of Corfu, police said.

“We got a report on gunshots being fired at 11:30 am (0830 GMT), near a hotel,” a police source in Athens said.

“The first information we have is that two people have been fatally wounded. It has yet to be confirmed by a coroner,” the officer said.

The incident occurred in the coastal resort of Dasia.

A police manhunt is underway to locate the gunman, Greek media reported.

State TV ERT had earlier reported that a local man had fired on a French couple living permanently on the island, apparently over a private dispute.

Women’s Day Held In Greece Amid #MeToo Furore

Women sing a feminist song in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, during a demonstration on International Women’s Day, on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Hundreds of women marched for International Women’s Day in Greece on Monday, at a protest with special poignancy as the country goes through a belated #MeToo awakening.

“This (commemoration) is more important today compared to previous years, precisely because we are going through the #MeToo movement in Greece,” Marilena Kavazi, an actress, told AFP at the protest in Athens’ central Syntagma Square.

“And we’re proud of it,” she said.

“March 8 to us is a day of struggle, not a celebration,” said Popi Kalogeropoulou, a pensioner.

“We fight for equal rights, abused women… against femicide,” she said.

Greece in recent months has been rocked by a wave of allegations of sexual abuse in the fields of arts, sport and education.

The most prominent case involves Dimitris Lignadis, the former artistic director of Greece’s national theatre, who has been accused of raping minors.

READ ALSO: EU Looks To Secure Vaccine Supplies For Jabs Ramp-Up

Lignadis, who was placed in pre-trial detention last month, denies the charges.

Two other prominent actors have also lost high-profile jobs amid allegations of bullying and sex harassment, mainly targeting female colleagues.

More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, the code of silence in Greece was broken in December by a two-time Olympic sailing medallist, Sofia Bekatorou.

Bekatorou said that when she was 21 she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse” by a senior federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Greece’s first female president, on Monday said many women had become “caged victims” to family violence during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“There is nothing worse than having your private space turn into a prison of sorts, where you have to live with your abuser,” Sakellaropoulou said.

AFP

Hundreds Of Houses Destroyed By Twin Earthquakes In Greece

A woman stands by damaged old buildings in the village of Damasi, near the town of Tyrnavos, after a strong 6,3-magnitude earthquake hit the Greek central region of Thessaly on March 3, 2021.  (Photo by Sakis MITROLIDIS / AFP)

 

Twin earthquakes in Greece last week have left around 900 houses uninhabitable, media reported Sunday, while strong aftershocks continue to strike fear into people made homeless and looking for shelter.

Wednesday and Thursday’s quakes, rated at magnitude 6.3 and 5.9, damaged hundreds of buildings in the villages of Larissa, Elassona, Tyrnavos and Farkadona and injured 11 people.

After inspecting around 1,800 structures, engineers said 898 homes would have to be demolished along with some hospitals, schools and churches, Athens News Agency reported.

The mainly agricultural area has many stone buildings that are over 70 years old.

Authorities are rushing in caravans and tents to shelter those left homeless from low temperatures and rainy weather.

Thessaly regional governor Kostas Agorastos said Sunday that temporary housing units and caravans would be hooked up to electricity and water supplies in Damassi and Messohori villages, with at least 100 caravans expected in the coming week.

READ ALSO: Global Players Brainstorm To Boost COVID-19 Vaccine Output

On Saturday, deputy Interior Minister Stelios Petsas said that each earthquake-hit municipality would receive 300,000 euros ($360,000) on Monday to fund emergency spending.

Meanwhile, seismologists have warned people not to return to damaged homes, forecasting many months of aftershocks.

“It’s a given that post-earthquake activity will be long, at least for 4-5 months, so the best solution is to move earthquake-stricken families to containers,” the director of the Greek Geodynamic Institute, Akis Tselentis, told Kathimerini newspaper.

A magnitude 4.2 aftershock hit late Saturday near the town of Elassona in Thessaly.

Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes. But they mostly occur at sea and do not cause casualties.

In October, a 7.0 magnitude quake struck in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and the city of Izmir in western Turkey. Two teenagers died on the island of Samos in a building collapse.

AFP

6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Central Greece

A man wearing a face mask walks past shuttered hops in Thessaloniki on November 14, 2020, during a second national lockdown in Greece aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Sakis MITROLIDIS / AFP)

 

A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.

The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.

According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.

There were at least three aftershocks following the main tremor — including one at magnitude 4.0 — and authorities warned there could be more.

“The depth of the earthquake was 10 meters, therefore there will be significant aftershocks,” seismologist Gerassimos Papadopoulos said on Skai radio.

The Civil Protection agency also reported landslides had occurred in the region, and authorities were assessing for further damage.

READ ALSO: Burkina Road Bomb Kills Six In Ambulance

Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes.

But the quakes often happen at sea and do not often kill people or cause extensive damage.

The last fatal earthquake was in October, when a magnitude 7.0 hit in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and the city of Izmir in western Turkey.

The majority of damage was in Turkey where 114 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

In Greece, two teenagers were reported dead on the island of Samos.

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis Dismisses Sex ‘Scandal’ Cover-Up Claims

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 8, 2021 Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers a statement after a meeting in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on February 25, 2021, hit back at accusations that he tried to cover up a sex abuse “scandal” involving a top thespian appointed by his government. The debate took place as the former artistic director of Greece’s national theatre, Dimitris Lignadis, was scheduled to appear before a prosecutor to answer allegations of raping minors, including migrant children.
menahem kahana / POOL / AFP

 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday hit back at accusations that he tried to cover up a sex abuse “scandal” involving a top thespian appointed by his government.

Speaking in parliament, Mitsotakis said the opposition and supporting media was dragging public discourse through a “swamp” and spreading “demagoguery poison”.

The debate took place as the former artistic director of Greece’s national theatre, Dimitris Lignadis, was scheduled to appear before a prosecutor to answer allegations of raping minors, including migrant children.

Lignadis, 56, resigned on February 6 citing a “toxic climate of rumours, innuendo and leaks”.

In police custody since the weekend, he has strongly denied the allegations.

Opposition parties have accused the government of dragging its feet in the investigation, which could have led to the destruction of valuable evidence.

Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras on Thursday told parliament the case amounted to a “major scandal involving an attempted cover-up”, accusing the prime minister of “hypocrisy” and other ministers of “lying” to the public.

The Lignadis case is the latest in a belated #MeToo awakening in Greece involving allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and bullying in the fields of arts, sport and education that have rocked the country in recent weeks.

A related judicial inquiry is underway into claims that migrant children had been molested between 2017 and 2018.

The government has promised to introduce a new ethics code to prevent future abuse cases.

More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, the code of silence in Greece was broken last December by a two-time Olympic sailing medallist, Sofia Bekatorou.

Bekatorou said that when she was 21 she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse” by a senior federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

-AFP

Three Killed As Heavy Snow, Gale-Force Winds Hit Greece

A file photo of Greece flag.

 

Three people died Tuesday as heavy snowfall not seen in more than a decade fell and gale-force winds hit Greece, disrupting road and sea transport as well as halting Covid vaccinations in Athens.

Snow blanketed ancient monuments like the Acropolis and the cold front, dubbed “Medea” after the mythical Greek sorceress of the Argonauts, sent temperatures plunging, with a maximum low of minus 19 degrees Celsius (minus 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in the northwestern city of Florina.

“The last time we saw so much snow in the centre of Athens was in February 2008,” meteorologist Costas Lagouvardos told AFP.

On the island of Evia near Athens, two elderly men suffering from respiratory problems died after their breathing apparatus failed during a power outage, state TV ERT reported.

On Crete, a livestock farmer in his 60s was found dead in the snow outside his granary at the village of Kaminaki in the east of the island, TV ERT added.

The rare phenomenon prompted authorities to cancel all coronavirus vaccinations planned in the capital for the day.

Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, has been without power for two days, and scores of falling trees caused local outages in some parts of the greater Athens area.

Over a dozen municipalities in the capital have been affected, officials said.

– ‘Truly exceptional problem’ –
“Our big concern is the electricity grid,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after an emergency cabinet meeting. “We need the patience to resolve this problem which is truly exceptional.”

The weather conditions also sparked concern about conditions for thousands living in migrant camps around the country.

Over the past few days the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR has sent radiators to the camps around the country where tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been struggling with the cold and hail.

Additional sleeping bags and blankets have also been handed out, a migration ministry source told AFP.

In the camp of Elaionas near Athens, some 200 refugees on Tuesday had to be temporarily rehoused in containers and an indoor gym after their tents were damaged by snow, according to a migrant support group.

“Nobody in Elaionas will stay in a tent tonight,” the migration ministry source said.

Authorities shut down the main motorway between Athens and Greece’s second city Thessaloniki late Monday to prevent traffic backups, while winds of up to 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour halted shipping between the Greek mainland and the Aegean islands.

The snow that fell through most of the day Monday snarled traffic in the city centre on Tuesday as well as in the northern suburbs.

The snow also turned the sandy beaches of the Athens seafront white.

The weather was forecast to improve from Wednesday.

Greece Facing Third COVID-19 Wave, Says Health Minister

A health worker takes a swab from a motorist during an antigen drive-through testing in central Athens on January 5, 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Greece is facing a third coronavirus wave, the health minister said on Tuesday as officials met to discuss tighter lockdown rules.

“The analysis I am receiving from experts… shows this third wave is coming to our country too,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias told Open TV, ahead of an emergency cabinet meeting on the pandemic.

Greece was hit with a first wave of the virus in March last year before infections eased off, surging again in autumn prompting the government to re-impose a nationwide lockdown.

In the greater Athens area, 71 percent of intensive care beds allotted for Covid patients were now occupied, the minister said.

Nearly 6,000 deaths in Greece have been attributed to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and more than 270 people are in intensive care.

Nearly 420,000 people in the country of 11 million have received at least one vaccine dose.

Greece has joined other EU states in limiting the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to the under-65s as it awaits data on its efficacy.

Kikilias said studies on the impact of the AstraZeneca vaccine on those aged over 70 are expected by late February.

Greeks aged 60 to 64, and 75 to 79, are to receive jabs from next week in two separate groups.

Greece has been under national lockdown since November, with movement restricted between regions and people required to give a valid reason for leaving their homes.

Retail restrictions were eased for Christmas and sales season last month, a move critics say drove infections up again.