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Society

COVID-19 Spreading, Island Curfews: Welcome to Greece

With fears COVID-19 is resurging fast because of defiance of health measures and tourists bringing the virus with them, Greece will impose more restrictions – including curfews on three islands while promoting a safe vacation destination.

Tourism professionals said the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) miscalculated with its expensive campaign on international media and social media touting the country's record in dealing with the virus, said Kathimerini.

At the time it began it seemed like a safe bet with the New Democracy government credited with holding down the number of cases and deaths with an early lockdown March 23 before a single fatality.

That was gradually lifted week-by-week starting May 4 but before long Greeks began ignoring or defying requirements to wear masks in public places and stay at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart and partying, seeing COVID-19 come back.

Visitors also must go through a big rigamarole of tests, codes sent to their mobile phones and other procedures before being allowed into the country to hold down the spread of COVID-19, too cumbersome for most who opted out.

The 3-million euro ($3.54 million) depiction of Greece as an open and safe destination is at odds with new restrictions being imposed almost daily to deal with the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, the paper said.

With Americans and Russians barred, two major markets cut out because those countries are seeing COVID-19 spiral out of control after refusing to lock down and opening economies, Greece has reached out to other countries.

The budget has gone mostly to social media, with big spending on Google, Bloomberg, LinkedIn, Twitter, CNN, The Travel Channel, Expedia, National Geographic and Trip Advisor, focused on 12 European countries and Israel.

But some Balkan countries have been shut out as well because of the number of cases there with Greeks venturing there and returning bringing some cases back with them, another troubling problem. 

After the island of Poros near Athens' southern coast and the Peloponnese was locked down because police wouldn't enforce health protocols, the government was reportedly due to also impose curfews on Spetses as well as Antiparos, where American – and now Greek citizen – Tom Hanks and his Cypriot-Bulgarian wife Rita Wilson have a summer home. 

On Poros, authorities also made the use of face masks mandatory in all public spaces, indoor and out, suspended farmers’ markets, village festivals and other such public gatherings, and imposed a cap of four (or six if they belong to the same household) on the number of people allowed to sit at the same cafe or restaurant table.

SHUT IT DOWN

Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias is also expected to announce a ban on public and private gatherings involving more than 50 people, the website iefimerida.gr reported.

Speaking to broadcaster SKAI, Anastasia Kotanidou, a Professor of Intensive Care Pulmonology at the University of Athens and member of the committee advising the government on the coronavirus, said tighter measures were being planned.

Greece opened to tourists in stages in July, first admitting those from countries with similarly safe records and then to other countries and said cruise ships would be allowed although are breeding grounds for the virus but none have come.

Just before the opening, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis went to the country's most popular island, Santorini, and against a sun setting over the famed dormant volcano in the background, heralded the plan to allow tourists.

Tourism is the country's most important revenue engine, bringing in up to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 169.52 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and in 2019 saw 33 million people spend 18 billion euros ($21.27 billion.)

But with restrictive health measures in place in hotels and fear of traveling as the pandemic is still going around the world, tourism officials are fast ratcheting down expectations for the summer.

Hopes were that tourism would help save abbreviated summer but figures now show that the losses will reach as high as 15 billion euros ($17.72 billion,) or about 7.5 percent of GDP, said Kathimerini.

That's being blamed on COVID-19 but also the operating rules in place for hotels, air travel, shipping and catering businesses as well as entertainment, too costly and too much to take for most tourists who stayed home.

Yiannis Retsos, President of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) told the paper that it's been a dire year indeed.

“Since May we had said … this year’s tourist year would start from scratch and anything built on it could only be positive for businesses and employees … we set the bar between 20-25% of last year’s 18.5 billion euros ($21.86 billion,) always under certain conditions.” 

But he said that, “Unfortunately, the evolution of the pandemic internationally forces us today to place the revenue estimate below 20%, between 3-3.5 billion euros ($3.54-$4.14 billion.”

Can the summer be saved even a little? “Supporting the work with new measures and shaping the existing ones so that a wave of redundancies can be stopped” and “protecting the very good brand that our country has built” in recent month is now critical, he added.

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O oceanic you sing and sail White on your body and yellow on your chimeneas For you're tired of the filthy waters of the harbors You who loved the distant Sporades You who lifted the tallest flags You who sail clear through the most dangerous caves Hail to you who let yourself be charmed by the sirens Hail to you for never having been afraid of the Symplegades (Andreas Empeirikos)   What traveler has not been fascinated by the Greek islands, drawn by the Sirens’ song of a traveler’s dreams? TNH and our video show ‘Mission’ marked the change of the season by transporting viewers into the heart of summer.

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