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Economy

Greece Nervously Opens for Summer, Trying to Save Tourism Season

The international airports in Greece's capital of Athens and second-largest city of Thessaloniki reopened on June 15 after the lifting of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic lockdown with officials hoping people will come.

Tourism accounts for as much as 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 177.99 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and employs, directly and indirectly, more than 700,000 people as the country's biggest revenue engine.

With the lockdown that began March 23 shutting down some businesses as long as 10 weeks, many of them then failing, the New Democracy government wants to restart the economy but said health protocols would be in place, although defiance is growing.

About 33 million tourists visited in 2019, continuing a consecutive run of record years, generating about 19 billion euros ($21.38 billion) in revenues, tourism money this year needed more than ever.

Greece was just beginning to show a faster recovery from a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis when COVID-19 hit, bringing a screeching halt to business and tourism although the early lockdown held down the number of cases and deaths.

Passengers arriving from airports deemed high-risk by the European Union's aviation safety agency will be tested for the Coronavirus and quarantined up to 14 days, depending on the test result, said Reuters in a report.

Restrictions remain for passengers from Britain and Turkey while arrivals from other airports will be randomly tested as seasonal hotels are set to open July 1 although it's unclear if international air traffic will be in full force by then. 

From the popular island of Santorini, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters that his priority is to make Greece the safest destination in Europe with reports it's being viewed that way. 

"You can come to Greece, you will have a fantastic experience, you can sit on a veranda with this wonderful view, have your nice Assyrtiko wine, enjoy the beach," Mitsotakis said, with a stunning sunset in the background.

"But we don't want you crowded in a beach bar … There are a few things that we won't allow this summer,” he said, despite the closing – pending appeals – of at least seven beach clubs so far who defied the health protocols and held some giant parties.

A line of cars roughly about 5 kilometers (3 miles) long formed at Bulgaria’s main border crossing with Greece, after Greece reopened its border to tourists.

Greece had announced it was reopening to visitors June 15, leading many to believe the border crossing would be open at midnight  but the Promahonas crossing was due to reopen at noon, leading to a long backup of waiting cars.

Officials opened the border nearly an hour earlier due to the waiting travelers, and the line was easing shortly after midday, authorities said. Health officials were conducting randomized coronavirus tests on those entering, with roughly one person in every 15 checked.

Greece’s border with North Macedonia remains closed to tourists and is only open to those for travel deemed essential, leaving the Bulgarian crossing as the only convenient alternative for tourists from the Balkans to drive themselves into Greece.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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