ATHENS – Hoping to draw tourists, Greece on June 1 further lifted a lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus and will allow travelers from two of the hardest-hit countries, Italy and the United Kingdom.
But health measures on those from Italy will require tests for the virus, infuriating a regional government there, while those from the UK will be held overnight in a hotel designed for testing and put in quarantine for 7-14 days if they are positive.
The lockdown that began March 23 by the New Democracy government was credited with holding down the number of cases and deaths and began being lifted in weekly stages beginning May 4, with elementary schools and nurseries now open.
Hotels, summer open-air cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools also were allowed to open but the country's artists and musicians are in dire straits as concerns and music events are still banned, leaving them without work.
International flights with screening procedures will return to Athens and Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki starting on June 15, and will be expanded to the rest of the country on July 1, the start of what's left of a summer tourism season.
Screening for arriving passengers will be based on an assessment by a European Union flight safety authority, with arrivals from low-infection countries being subjected only to random testing.
Year-round hotels were also allowed to reopen but despite being desperate for business many stayed closed until closer to the start of the tourism season, citing low bookings with international air traffic not in full force and people fearful of traveling.
Other businesses allowed to restart included campsites, wedding reception services, tattoo parlors and dating agencies while some hotels were weighing the cost of implementing strict hygiene protocols against staying closed this summer.
Greece's government said that from June 15-30, that foreign nationals coming from "risk zones" – which for Italy included Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto – would have to undergo tests before entering Greece.
Whomever tests positive is obliged to remain in quarantine for 14 days. For all the other citizens the tests will be done only by sample, said Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency, adding that it has created a row with Italy.
Italian politicians were upset although their country was the first epicenter in Europe of the disease and suffered brutally with a death toll of 33,415 as of June 1, and more than 233,000 cases.
Veneto's Governor Luca Zaia said Greece's regulations were "unbelievable" and warned Greek operators: "They'll never see us again."
That came as Greece, dependent on tourism that brings in as much as 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 179.8 billion euros ($200.3 billion) said it was ready to “welcome the world,” although hotel guests will be required to observe social distancing and tough health measures will limit the numbers.
Greece's government said all air links with Athens and Thessaloniki, the country's second-biggest city and major port, will be reinstated from 15 June “in a bridge phase” before direct flights to mainland and island destinations restart July 1.
The rules will be strict, the British newspaper The Guardian noted as the Greek government limited its prohibition on visitors from the UK. Passengers flying in from airports deemed by the EU’s aviation safety agency (EASA) to be in areas with “high risk of transmission of COVID-19” will be tested.
“If your travel originated from an airport not in the EASA affected-area list, then you are only subject to random tests upon arrival,” a statement said, with Greece initially saying it would welcome only those from 29 countries with better COVID-19 records.
British media outlets responded by ruing the news of “Brits being banned,” the paper said, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson's refusal to lock down early spread the disease and deaths and made UK tourists a high-risk category.
More than four million UK citizens traveled to Greece last year, more than from any other nation, a critical market for Greece which is counting on tourism to save the economy from further imploding this year.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)