ATHENS — After opening the country’s international airports outside Athens and the second-largest city of Thessaloniki on July 15 to visitors from 29 countries with records as similarly safe in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece will open regional airports on July 1 and welcome tourists from other countries – hoping they will come.
Greece has implemented health measures designed to protect them, including even in remote areas and faraway islands, said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as he tried to balance the need for an economic restart with making sure people are safe.
There are signs, however, that social distancing, wearing of masks and other health protocols are widely being ignored or defied, leaving the New Democracy government scrambling to enforce them and persuade people it’s safe – and with Greeks worried that visitors might bring a resurgence of the virus.
"Every possible care has been taken to enable us to receive visitors with the maximum safety possible from July 1," he told a Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) event, reported Agence France-Presse.
"All destinations on the mainland and islands have reinforced medical facilities," he said, although tourists from the critical markets of the United States, Russia and United Kingdom won’t be allowed yet because the virus is so prevalent in those countries.
Seasonal hotels also open on July 1 with owners complaining the health measures are impractical to impossible to implement and that the restrictions are so tight it may not be worth operating this year and as they hope to survive until 2021.
The country went into a lockdown on March 23 before a single death, the shutdown of non-essential businesses credited with holding down the number of cases and deaths but leaving some workers, especially seasonal employees, near desperate.
His government faced criticism this week after the child of an unemployed hotel worker fainted from hunger on the island of Rhodes. Her mother said they were struggling to live because the lockdown left her without work and few prospects this summer.
"My supplies simply ran out… nobody has a job here, Rhodes is a dead town," she told Antenna TV. "Last year I would make 1,000 euros ($1121.80 a month. Many children will faint, not just my own," she said.
Mitsotakis didn’t mention her plight in his speech welcoming tourists but said the tourism sector to "support every tourism staffer and their families,” without indicating whether his administration would help them.
His government poured 17.5 billion euros ($19.63 billion) into paying laid-off workers and subsidizing businesses during the lockdown to keep them afloat.
He said Greece had to be "smart and creative" about marketing itself as a virus-safe destination and tests conducted at Athens and Thessaloniki’s airports of incoming visitors found the virus was seen "around one in a thousand…and all actually asymptomatic."
Greece relies on tourism as its biggest revenue engine with Bank of Greece figures showing there were 34 million visitors in 2019, continuing a record run of years, and they brought in more than 18 billion euros ($20.19 billion,) which could shrink to less than 8 billion euros ($8.97 billion) this year, reports said.