ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has extended a lockdown and tightened restrictions in more areas of the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic after a surge in new infections piled pressure on its health system, authorities said on Wednesday.
With 6,597 deaths, Greece has fared better than other European countries since its first case was reported a year ago. But despite a lockdown in Athens for more than two weeks, infections have showed no sign of receding.
Authorities reported 2,702 daily infections on Wednesday, the highest daily figure recorded this year, and up from 2,353 the previous day. There were 40 deaths.
"The health system is under unbearable pressure," Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias told a regular news briefing.
The lockdown in the wider Athens region, where intensive care units have faced severe pressure, has been extended by a week to March 16, Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said.
To avert overcrowding, the government, which is counting on the summer tourist season to bring desperately needed revenues, imposed tighter curbs on movement, including on outdoor exercise, and has restricted supermarket shopping to a 2-km (1.2-mile) radius from people's homes.
Kikilias called on the public to "take care, abide by the restrictions, and do not relax."
"We are at the most difficult phase," he said.
Non-essential shops and schools in Athens are closed and most workers are encouraged to work from home.
Finance Minister Christos Staikouras has estimated the monthly cost of strict COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to the economy at about 3 billion euros ($3.62 billion).
About 1 million Greeks, out of a population of about 10 million, have been vaccinated so far. Another 750,000 vaccinations were expected by the end of the month, health authorities said.
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(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Lefteris Papadimas; editing by Jonathan Oatis)