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Economy

Free of COVID-19, Tiny Greek Island Halki Waits for Tourists

ATHENS — No vehicles are allowed on Halki, apart from those making some deliveries and waterfront accommodations on the tiny island closer to Turkey than Greece are so close to the water you can step out your door for a swim.

But besides those allures, it’s being free from the COVID-19 pandemic that makes the island, accessible by ferries from Rhodes, even more of a draw for people looking for a sweet and simple time without worry.

So now the 250 residents are just waiting for them. 

“All the small islands are waiting for tourists,” 62-year-old fisherman Alekos Sfyriou told the news agency Reuters. “They’ll eat the fish I catch.” Like others there, he’s anticipating May 14 when Greece will open to tourists who have been vaccinated or have negative Coronavirus tests. 

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 on Halki, all of whose residents were vaccinated in a program Greece began to bring oases of virus-free spots in the country.

There’s only one doctor there, typical of assignments often given young physicians who find their initial postings in remote places, and tourism is the biggest revenue provider.

“Greece is thinking big by vaccinating the small islands first, to make these secluded paradises safe,” George Hatzimarkos, Governor of Greece’s most popular region, the south Aegean, told the news agency.

Halki is the epitome of an Instagram-perfect Greek island and despite needing tourists there’s relatively so few of them that there’s still an unspoiled sense there along with sweet beaches and serenity.

And even during the raging pandemic of 2020 when international air travel was at a near-standstill, Greeks choosing domestic tourism still came there, critically propping up the economy.

Giorgos Fragakis, 74, a retired seaman and father of Mayor Angelos Fragakis, said it was the worst time in his life when lockdowns were brought trying to slow the pandemic.

“We were stuck at home … We couldn’t even see the children because we weren’t vaccinated,” he said, referring to his granddaughters whom he took for a stroll, from a safe social distance.

“Now we feel relatively safe. I don’t know how long this will last… seeing my grandchildren,” he said.

An Army unit was brought there in March to help with the vaccinations and the elderly were driven in a donated golf car up the steep and narrow cobbled streets leading to the health center.

“At first, there was some hesitation,” said Nikos Stogiannis, a nurse. “Then they discussed it amongst themselves and said, ‘come on, let’s get vaccinated.’”

Fragakis said vaccines were “a godsend” for Halki but even before then, locals practiced social distancing and wore masks. “If the virus came to us, we would have many problems.”

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