Greek PM warns: stay at home or 'we will pay for it'

Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announces nationwide curfew as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Maximos Mansion in Athens

ATHENS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned Greeks on Thursday that if they relaxed compliance with lockdown measures "we will pay for it", saying April would be the most critical month in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are not at the beginning of the end, rather at the end of the beginning," Mitsotakis told parliament, urging people to stay at home.

Greek authorities have closed restaurants, bars, shops, playgrounds, schools, shopping malls, universities and gyms to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

"April will be the most critical month, if we relax we will pay for it and we must not let this happen," Mitsotakis said, adding that Greece had so far avoided "the tragic events" seen in Italy, Spain and the United States.

Greece, which recorded its first coronavirus case at the end of February and took early measures to contain the outbreak, has reported 1,415 confirmed cases so far and 50 deaths.

The economic shutdown is expected to lead the economy into recession this year. Manufacturing contracted sharply in March, with production declining at the fastest pace since July 2015, bringing an end to nearly three years of expansion.

Mitsotakis acknowledged that the strict lockdown measures were having a serious impact on the economy. But the ultimate goal was to gain time and make sure that the public health system could withstand the pandemic, avoiding a collapse.

"So far Greeks are succeeding on this," he said.

He said the situation was much worse in other European countries such as Holland, where the first new coronavirus case was confirmed at the same time as in Greece, but where there were 10 times more intubated patients in hospitals.



(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Nick Tattersall)