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A man undergoes a COVID-19 test in Athens on Nov. 5, 2020.Thanassis Stavrakis/The Associated Press

Greece ordered a nationwide lockdown on Thursday for three weeks to help contain a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, its second this year after a sharp increase in infections this week.

“I’ve chosen to take drastic measures sooner rather than later,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Although having previously said a nationwide lockdown was a last option, Mitsotakis said he was forced to act after a spike in cases in the past five days, saying that without a lockdown the pressure on the health care system would be “unbearable.”

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Under the new countrywide restrictions to take effect from Saturday, retail businesses will be shut with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies. Greeks will need a permit to venture outdoors at allocated times.

Primary schools will stay open, but high schools will shut.

The country has reported fewer cases than most in Europe, mainly due to an early nationwide lockdown it imposed when the pandemic broke out in February. It started unwinding those restrictions in May.

Since early October Greece has seen a surge in infections and has been reimposing curbs. It follows other European countries including France and Britain that have begun new lockdowns.

The resurgence of the virus in Greece was “particularly aggressive”, chief government scientific adviser Sotiris Tsiodras said, speaking alongside Mitsotakis.

Greece registered 2,646 infections on Wednesday, the highest daily tally since its first case surfaced, bringing the total number of cases to 46,892. So far, 673 people have died of COVID-19.

The main opposition, the leftist Syriza party, has criticized the government for failing to bolster the health system and protect businesses and jobs before the second wave hit, projecting a dramatic recession this year beyond official projections.

“The government has undermined the magnitude of this crisis,” said Alexis Haritsis, Syriza MP and former interior and deputy finance minister.

Greece, which lost a quarter of its national output during a decades-long financial crisis, expects to see its economy shrink by 8.2 per cent this year.

Countries around the world are working on a coronavirus vaccine, including right here in Canada. Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk discussed the timeline and challenges in developing COVID-19 vaccines during a Facebook live.

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