Risk of New Lockdown as Mask-Wearing Cretans Are a Rare Sight



Wearing a mask in Athens is the new normal. But what about places like Crete? Credit: Efthymios Siranidis/Greek Reporter

By Benjamin Newton Wylie-Black

As many will be aware, areas of Greece have undergone and are undergoing local restrictions in an attempt to flatten the curve of new Covid-19 cases and, while I cannot speak about other areas in Greece, I can speak of what I have noticed in the area of Heraklion, Crete.

It was announced that, during the first half of September, additional measures and restrictions would be implemented in the municipality of Heraklion, amongst which would be the wearing of face masks — both inside and outside.

While the wearing of masks was supposed to have been happening in indoor public spaces for some time, the wearing of a mask while walking down the street is a new thing.

Now, there are those who would argue that this measure is pointless; wearing a mask to walk down a street in the open air seems to achieve little more than the possibility of a strange facial tan line.

But there are also those who would agree that, if there is a rise in the number of cases, and therefore an increased risk of coming into contact with someone who is carrying the virus, then surely this is a positive measure to help lessen the risk.

Whichever side you stand on the restriction, two things are abundantly clear; hardly anyone is doing it and hardly anyone is policing or enforcing it.

Only ones wearing a mask

The first week in September saw the arrival of friends onto the island of Crete and to the village of Koutouloufari for their holidays and an opportunity for us to meet up for a drink and a bite to eat in the village.

Having followed the restriction rules all this time, we went armed with our usual selection of masks and parked just outside the village so we could be tourists for the night and walk through Koutouloufari to meet our friends at one of the bars.

It was 7:30 PM and, as the sun was setting in the distance, the usually packed village was eerily quiet. From where we parked we walked through the village and past several restaurants and bars, shops and cafes, and we were lucky if we saw 50 people in total, with only a handful of these people actually walking along the usually-thronged street.

What’s more, aside from one other couple, we were the only ones wearing masks on the street.

I appreciate that this is hardly a fair assessment of the numbers of tourists on the island at this one time, but it was something we passed comment on to each other as we made our way to meet our friends.

Following this, over the first weekend in September I decided that the ever-thinning mop of hair on my head was in need of cutting, so into Hersonissos we traveled to the hairdressers. As we went, we passed more tourists.

After the much-needed haircut it was a quick stop at the OPAP to confirm we were still not millionaires before heading to the opticians and then back to the car. In total, an hour and a half in the tourist town of Hersonissos at the start of September and, once again, quiet streets that were more like October than the end of the height of season,

And, once again, we were lucky to count 13 people, out of the near 200 we passed, wearing a mask on the street.

Where is the pandemic?

As I mentioned above, there will be those who are getting ready to throw something at their computer as their anger rises at the audacity of this observation, but it is simply that, an observation.

Whether one agrees with it or not, it is a restriction and rule that has been handed down by the Greek government and a restriction that is in effect across the whole of the municipality.

We live outside of Hersonissos in one of the villages up into the mountains — and here you would not even think there was a pandemic, yet alone further restrictions to try to curb it.

You go into the local supermarket and not even all the staff are wearing face protection, so there is little hope that the ‘Masks are Mandatory’ notice on the door and the one at the till will have any impact on the many locals who wander in and out all day without their masks on.

And don’t get me started on the local church and its regular flock and Papas.

While they may be happy in their belief that God is protecting them from any viruses, it doesn’t mean that the same supernatural being is offering the same protection as they touch items in the supermarket, walk past you in the street or head off to their jobs to mix with any number of potential incubators they come into contact with.

And in turn bring that back to the rest of us in the communities.

Do tourists get tested?

Then in recent news reports we hear that flights from Greece to the UK have been found to contain significant numbers of travelers who are testing positive on their return to the UK, resulting in Greece making the quarantine list for those living in Scotland and Wales — and we ask ourselves, are we surprised? Not really.

Over the past few weeks we have spoken to friends traveling to Crete on four different flights from the UK, flights that were full of eager tourists, and they all report that not one single traveler was tested on their flights.

Even just as a rough estimate, that is 800 travelers arriving in the country to start their holidays and not one of them tested, so who is to say that they did not bring it with them?

The assumption in the reports from the UK is that those who have returned home and tested positive have caught it here in Greece — a very real possibility if they have not been following the restrictions and guidelines laid down. But it is just as likely that they have brought it with them.

They then spent their week, 10 days or fortnight wandering the streets, going in the shops and handing over their money to all those locals who are now wandering around, going in the shops and spending their money; and the curve starts to grow and the risks multiply.

Risk of a new lockdown?

No one wants to see tourists and locals walking with their faces covered by a piece of material. The effectiveness of such is questionable at best; but then again, I think I would rather do that than run the risk that, once the tourism season ends, it is the locals who are the ones turning up in the hospitals.

And while the mask might not be the best protection, if I have one on and the person I pass on the street or in the supermarket has one on, then it will certainly reduce the chance of me getting what they have, and I am all right with that for the 30 minutes or more that I need to be walking the street.

Indeed, I count myself fortunate that I only have to wear it to walk the street for the time it takes me to go about my daily activities, and I am not one of the people who must wear it for 8, 10 or more hours of work every day.

I do not write this as someone who is sitting in their ivory tower, sleeping on a bed close to the ceiling because of the mountains of cash I have hidden beneath the mattress; in reality, my business is closed because of the restrictions and we have suffered, like many locals, from not being able to open our doors this year.

I can only imagine the pressures experienced and difficult decisions of those who have opened their businesses for the tourists arriving on the island and the provision of employment and winter stamps they are providing for their employees.

But I find myself frustrated and annoyed when I see such blatant disregard for the restrictions and the potential impact and risk that they are placing the rest of us locals and tourists in.

I’m sure there are many out there who are flying the conspiracy flags and many who are angered at the control they are being placed under, but I also value my health and that of my family, friends and community. If this means that I have to wear a mask to walk the streets in an attempt to lessen the spread, even a little bit as an individual and household, then that is what I will do.

Of course the impact would be greater the more people that did the same — but when the season ends and the numbers remain high, or the Greek government places the country in a March/April style lockdown again, lets see how many of the non-mask wearers are up in arms once again.

At least I will have done my bit to try and remain healthy and avoid a repeat of what took place earlier this year. Another three months of only leaving the house for essential travel and no beach or kafenions is not how I hope to spend my winter months.

Benjamin Wylie-Black is the owner of the Home Hotel, located 3 km (1.8 miles) from the heart of Hersonissos, known for its dynamic nightlife, many scenic charms and wonderful beaches.