ATHENS, GREECE - Greece's government is gradually easing lockdown restrictions, and after 42 days of strict stay-at-home rules, young Greeks are spilling onto the streets. Authorities are striking back, imposing stiff fines and new lockdowns in an effort to prevent a possible resurgence of the coronavirus.
In the Athens suburb of Agia Parasksevi earlier this week, more than 400 young Greeks defied social-distancing rules by buying take-away drinks from local pubs and turning the district's main square into a massive, open-air block party.
Police intervened, firing tear gas to disperse the crowds and imposing a new curfew.
But most young Greeks, in Agia Paraskevi and beyond, are undeterred.
Thousands of people have spilled out on the streets for take-away parties in the capital and in other cities across the country. Fines of up to 5,000 euros have been slapped on bar owners fanning the craze.
Nothing seems to be working, though. Even older crowds are joining in, inundating parks and piazzas for late-night strolls and meetings despite COVID controls forbidding social gatherings.
Nikos Hardalias, the head of Greece's homeland security force, is concerned.
In a stern public appeal late Thursday, he urged Greeks to heed social distancing rules and to avoid behaving in ways that could enflame the spread of the COVID virus.
The staggering death tolls of neighboring Italy, he warned, should not be ignored.
Early and rigorous Greek controls have helped keep most of this country of 11 million free of the virus. Just over 2,000 cases have been reported, with fewer than 150 deaths.
However, the government's handling of the crisis after the easing of controls has been the source of fierce political debate.
Alexis Haritsis of the left-wing opposition Syriza party accused the government of using excessive force to keep Greeks in check. Spontaneous acts of celebration or gatherings, he said, cannot be confronted with tear gas and the police.
With the summer setting in and the weekend approaching, authorities fear take-away parties may spread even further, and police say they are considering deploying special negotiators to help disperse defiant crowds.