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Greece swears in first female president in front of nearly empty parliament amid coronavirus outbreak

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Greece's first-ever female president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, was formally sworn into office for a five-year term Friday. But what should have been a celebratory moment for the country was instead honored quietly due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The swearing-in ceremony for Sakellaropoulou, a former high court judge, took place in a nearly empty parliament as a preventative measure to try to stop the spread of the virus, The Associated Press reports. Only a handful of officials and journalists were present for the occasion. 

Handshakes were excluded from the ceremony, Reuters reports.

In an effort to contain the outbreak and limit "social distancing," Greece has closed schools, universities, movie theaters, gyms and nightclubs for the foreseeable future. As of Friday, Greece had 133 cases of COVID-19 and one death, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Greece's first female president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, was sworn-in during a quiet ceremony Friday, March 13, amid the coronavirus pandemic.  ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters

After being sworn in, Sakellaropoulou lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just outside of parliament in Athens. A small crowd gathered to watch the ceremony despite warnings from officials to stay home, AP reports. 

Sakellaropoulou highlighted the country's ongoing battle against the coronavirus in a brief speech at the presidential palace. She warned people to strictly follow guidance from health authorities to prevent the continued spread of the virus. 

"We are also urged, first and foremost, to respond promptly and effectively to the recent coronavirus pandemic, so that a real danger, especially for our older fellow citizens, does not spread panic and threaten the collapse of our health system or to rend the social fabric, while also dealing a major blow to the country's economy," Sakellaropoulou said, according to ANA-MPA, a Greece-based news service. 

Globally, the virus has infected more than 137,000 people and killed over 5,000. Nearly 70,000 people have recovered. 

Sakellaropoulou emphasized that "the compliance of the general population to the recommendations of the competent health authorities and strict adherence to preventative measures are an essential requirement for preventing the further transmission of the virus."

Newly elected Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou takes an oath during the swearing-in ceremony at the nearly empty Greek Parliament in Athens, on Friday, March 13, 2020, as part of measures being taken to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

Sakellaropoulou is taking over following the five-year presidency of conservative Prokopis Pavlopoulos. She previously headed the Council of State, Greece's highest administrative court, and was elected in a 261-33 vote in January. 

"I hope that the election of a woman for the first time to the highest position of the country will improve the position of all women in the country, both in the family and in society," Sakellaropoulou said, according to AP.

"It is time for the women of this country to realize that they can attain their dreams, on their own merits, without facing obstacles simply because they were born women."

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