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Surprise Pandemic Surge in Tourists Swamps Some Greek Islands

Αssociated Press

A woman enjoys the sun at Plaka beach on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS -- Greece frantically wanted a return of tourists this summer to bring back an economy battered by lockdowns aimed at slowing the COVID-19 pandemic but the numbers were so big on some island that it overwhelmed them.

They included Santorini, ranked among the world's most popular islands and a place where people are cheek-by-jowl in the summer, rubbing elbows in crowded outdoor corridors and jostling for photo spots, especially at sunset.

It was the same on Patmos and Naxos, which annually draw crowds, but also the relatively unknown gem of Tzia, also known as Kea, only an hour off the Greek coast and which hadn't been discovered by foreign tourists until this year.

There were so many people on those islands that there were worries by locals – who wanted them and their revenues – that it was too many and will threaten the characteristics that lure people and test the infrastructure, said Kathimerini.

Those four islands had more visitors this summer than the entire record year of 2019, resulting in vehicle gridlock, people lining up to get into bars and restaurants in violation of COVID health measures, power blackouts, waters shortages and stink from sewer systems that couldn't handle their waste.

It was almost the same on some other islands too, such as Paros – which had 130,000 tourists – 10 times its population, while 30,000 overflowed on Patmos, which has a year-round population of 3,000.

The popularity of Greek islands that are arguably the most in demand in the world has seen a big bump in people wanting not just to rent or stay there for short vacations but also to build, with 600 building permits on Paros, most outside the main town.