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Shaking Off Pandemic, Mykonos Ready to Party Like It's 2019

Αssociated Press

In this Sunday, June 7, 2020 photo, a yacht sails out of the harbor on the Greek island of Mykonos. (AP Photo/Derek Gatopoulos)

ATHENS -- Already known as a hedonist heaven and tax cheat haven, famous for young women dancing on table tops, drunken revelry and wild partying, Mykonos is set to see it all over again this summer as tourists shed worries about the COVID-19 pandemic and are expected to flow in like free wine.

In a feature on the island being a symbol of foreigners returning to Greece in big numbers – perhaps 75 percent as much as the record 2019 that drew celebrities by the dozen – CNN reported that after being essentially shut down in 2020 that the celebrating is set to roar again.

All this during an alleged lockdown that was already lenient and has been pulled back so much that it's essentially over, with even the remaining restrictions, such as wearing masks and staying safe social distances a figment of the imagination.

They're getting ready: restaurants that offer only outdoor dining for now and not allowed to play music waiting for the release for indoor dining and to pump up the volume to sound blaster levels as an accompaniment to 1000-euro ($1222) bottles of champagne, bar owners hoping tax inspectors won't show up.

Greece's New Democracy government is on a crusade to vaccinate everyone on 85 key islands as a lure for visitors and convince them they are safe, the government eager for revenues from the country's biggest money-driver.

Clubs remain shut, hoping to soon reopen as Operation Blue Freedom picks up pace, as it's called, although during the 2020 pandemic year especially there were reports of private parties getting around lockdowns.

Only tourists who are fully vaccinated, have a negative PCR molecular test or proof they recovered from the Coronavirus are being allowed in although the European Union is finally getting around to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' idea of a COVID-19 certificate to let them avoid avoid quarantines and tests. 

At the Mykonos Health Center, vaccination appointments are fully booked, with over half of the island's population having received at least one of two required shots, the story noted.

Real estate agent Jerry Markantonatos has just received his jab. "I've been waiting for this moment since the first day that the virus started spreading," he told CNN.

"Honestly, I feel very lucky because I'm in the tourist business, I have a family, parents. So for me it's a big relief that as everybody that will visit Mykonos and Greece has to prove they are negative and we are also vaccinated we can ensure protection. Definitely Mykonos will be a Covid-free island this summer."

PARTY HARDY TIME

Tourism brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product of 163.89 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and employed close to a million people during the peak years record runs.

But in 2020, there were relatively few who came, international air traffic all but shut down and many countries in lockdown, keeping people locked up in their homes and locked out of vacations.

"Mykoneans were shocked to see their island with only a trickle of the tourists they are accustomed to," said Mayor Konstantinos Koukas. "But this year all indications show arrivals could double those of 2020,” he added.

Greece opened to tourists on May 15 and while the early bookings are not impressive, with only 10 percent of hotels opening that month, there are signs of a better June and maybe even a boom July and Big Summer.

The welcome mat is especially out for big-spending Americans and the return of Greek-Americans kept away from their family's homeland, now half crazy to get back to it, American airlines adding more direct flights to Athens already.

Mykonos will be a challenge for the government because it's built for partying and rebels, not conformists or people likely to obey health measures even to save their lives.

Another problem is that while US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt praised how many airlines were coming, the US State Department said Greece isn't safe to visit despite a ramped-up vaccination program and COVID-19 cases falling.

Iraklis Zisimopoulos, CEO of the Semeli Hospitality Group, which includes hotels, bars and restaurants on the island told CNN that, "We receive a lot of questions, though not all translate to bookings yet”.

He added: "The two main questions are if we are all vaccinated and whether guests can really party in the island like they used to. We tell them that we expect that by the 1st of July things will be very close to how they used to be before COVID,” if you can remember that.

The first mega-yachts have started arriving, champagne is flowing at bars and young people especially are dancing like they're frolicking in the rain at Woodstock in 1969, free of inhibitions.

"Last year the regulations were there... but we didn't have the vaccinations," said Vangelis Siafidas, co-owner of the trendy club Alemagou. "This year we were among the first ones to open. We wanted to show people that they can have a good time and a safe time. This is what makes people book tickets."

He didn't have to wait for this year. In June 2020, Alemagou was closed for 60 days and fined 20,000 euros ($24,443) for violating COVID-19 Coronavirus health protocols by allowing hundreds of people at the bar.