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Tourists Bringing COVID-19 Has Greece Mulling New Restrictions

Αssociated Press

Tourists from the United Kingdom arrive at Athens International Airport after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted by Greece, at Spata, east of Athens on July 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS -- Greece wanted tourists – but isn't getting many – and the visitors are bringing the Coronavirus with them despite spot checks at airports, leading the New Democracy government to consider tightening restrictions.

Greece has one of the world's best records in dealing with COVID-19 in holding down the number of cases and deaths, thanks to an early lockdown that was gradually lifted but opening the borders is seeing a resurgence of the virus.

As of July 17, there were 3,910 cases, including 27 in the previous 24 hours, four of them detected at the country's entry points, but no new deaths, leaving the toll so far at 193 although the virus is still prevalent.

Some 391,773 Coronavirus checks have been conducted in the country since the pandemic began earlier this year but with tourists coming in with the disease Greece barred visitors from Serbia amid fears Balkan residents are carrying it.

As of July 15 – when Greece opened to tourists from the United Kingdom, one of the hardest-hit regions - all incoming travelers crossing the border are required to carry negative test results, issued in the previous 72 hours and translated into English.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, struggling to get Greeks to comply with health protocols that have shown widespread defiance and ignoring of the requirements, called for people to adhere to them, which most aren't, including not social distancing.

“At the moment, I believe that the framework we have at our disposal is adequate. There is, however, an issue with its implementation,” Mitsotakis told ministers about how to intensify checks and further enforce existing measures said Kathimerini.

“We have to send a clear message: That in order to avoid a possible second wave, the measures we have defined as necessary, minimum conditions to ensure public health are being observed,” he added, even though they largely aren't.

He said authorities must ensure the safety of workers in the tourism industry and stop overcrowding, with scenes of people packing bars and restaurants with no reports of any being closed or fined as was promised by the government.

Mitsotakis also urged municipalities to “play their role” in the enforcement of the protective measures but didn't go as far as saying the government would get tougher with those which don't. 

The health rules are seeing many would-be tourists reluctant to come to Greece despite its relatively safe record and many people fearful of traveling by air or wanting to deal with the hassle of borders checks for vehicles.

The Promachonas-Kulata border with Bulgaria is the only crossing that has been open for non-essential travel after lockdown measures were eased leading to long backups of cars queued up at times.

Health experts advising the government want tougher enforcement of health safety rules, warning public compliance is low after months of strict lockdown.

Dozens of health care workers staged a protest outside the prime minister’s office to demand better staffing at public hospitals due to the pandemic.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)