ATHENS – Two months after a lockdown was imposed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, a further gradual lifting of restrictions on May 25 will see the opening of bars, restaurants, taverns and travel to and from Greece’s islands.
Health protocols will be required with no word on how they could be fully enforced, particularly social distancing to keep people at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart, already widely ignored.
Restaurants can have outdoor seating with tables further apart, no explanation how that could happen on the sidewalks of the capital which have limited space and with masks and gloves required for employees.
People had only been allowed to travel to Crete during the lockdown but representatives of shipping companies told the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) that bookings for the first day of travel were “satisfactory.”
The ferries though will be limited to 50 percent capacity and with empty seats between passengers as well as having to disinfect areas, many people eager to reach their holiday homes or get out of the cities after being mostly penned up since March 23.
Capacity can be 55 percent in larger ships with cabins, while strict health safety protocols are in place for the protection of all passengers, including taking the body temperature prior to boarding and filling out a special questionnaire by all passengers traveling for longer than 30 minutes, the news report said.
Boarding will not be allowed to anyone who either displays COVID-19 symptoms or has been in contact with someone infected in the last 14 days – both as per the questionnaire.
Seven ferries are scheduled to depart from Piraeus port: two to the Cyclades, one to Chios-Mytilini and four to Crete. Rafina port will see one ferry depart to Cyclades, while another three will depart from Lavrio port: two to Kea-Kythnos-Syros and one to Agios Efstratios-Limnos-Kavala.
That comes as the New Democracy government is set to hit a June 15 target to restart tourism from selected countries with safe records as Greece in dealing with the pandemic, but continuing to bar flights from Albania, Italy, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Spain, Turkey as well as the United Kingdom, which was first going to be allowed.
The government said it would continue to follow the scientific and medical advice of a panel of experts but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it’s also vital to resume tourism, which brings in as much as 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 183.68 billion euros ($200.3 billion.)
That was seen falling as much as 70 percent this year, further devastating an economy that was just starting to accelerate a recovery from a near decade-long crisis that brought austerity attached to three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($355.5 billion.)
With international flights due to begin again on July 1 to Greece, Mitsotakis said the country's fast response and success in containing the virus would be a "passport of safety, credibility and health " to visitors.
"We will win the economic battle just like we won the health one", Mitsotakis said, warning that the financial impact from the coronavirus would be immense, said CNN in a report.
Tourists will be allowed to enter Greece without taking a coronavirus test or remaining in quarantine. Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said health officials will conduct spot tests when required.
The government has said that healthcare capacity will be boosted at popular tourist destinations with medical staff and improved facilities, along with a comprehensive plan for the handling of possible infections.
As part of the gradual easing of an over two-month lockdown, some 500 organized beaches reopened as did the Acropolis in Athens along with over 200 archaeological sites across the country.