ATHENS – Hoping for the best, Greece now is allowing tourists from the United Kingdom, hard hit by COVID-19, and also hoping they won’t bring the virus with them but they’re finding it difficult to travel because direct flights aren’t operating yet.
Anxious for cash to offset the damage caused by the Coronavirus and a long lockdown that was gradually lifted, Greek authorities rolled the dice to admit visitors from the UK but they'll be tested and media reports said if more than 40 test positive a ban will be put in place.
Kathimerini, citing sources not identified, said many Britons are trying to find a flight to Greece, but cannot find direct ones as most are charter flights booked by tour operators, after Cyprus was told by travel groups that flights there wouldn't be sent if British tourists had to face tests or quarantine.
Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis insisted all was well and that more Britons would be coming after they were prohibited until July 15 when the gates were lifted for them.
"We are monitoring the numbers and the procedures we are applying, and we are happy with the results so far," he said despite reports of low numbers.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised: “If you travel to Greece, you will need to complete a Passenger Locator Form at least 48 hours before travel.”
Around 6,000 Britons are expected to be tested by July 17 after booking holidays in Greece, according to the British newspaper The Sun with the popular islands of Zante, Crete and Rhodes expecting more than 200 flights.
"The result of the mass testing (…) will determine if Greek borders remain open, or not, to Britain”, said Greek newspaper Protothema.
"If the number and percentage of those found to be positive is low, and is limited to less than 30 to 40 cases then […] the British tourist market will remain open,” the paper said.
"The government won't hesitate, calculating that the cost of the risk of coronavirus spreading is much more important than any benefits to tourism in a year that is considered largely lost,” the report said.
Theoharis downplayed the uncertainty, appearing on Sky News Today in the UK to say there wouldn't be a second lockdown in Greece although the New Democracy government said it wasn't off the table as tourists are bringing COVID-19 with them.
Greece had one of the best records in the world in dealing with the deadly virus and holding down the number of cases and fatalities because of a stringent lockdown that kept people mostly at home and closed non-essential businesses.
Theoharis said talk of another shutdown was “nonsense,” although cases – and worry – are jumping again. “We’re monitoring the situation; it’s got to be stable,” he said.
“We are looking at the numbers and the procedures and everything that we have put in place and we're very happy with the results,” he said, putting on a positive spin.
“That doesn't mean that we're not visual, that doesn't mean that we don't continue to monitor the situation but if anything we will toughen measures because I've read a few articles talking about a possible relapse – this is certainly not the case, I would like to refute that.
“Greece's has opened its doors to foreign tourists from Europe, maybe this will continue to be the case,” he said, adding that were “very, very happy” that Britons are returning to Greece, and bringing their money with them.
“We always enjoy the company of our friends from the UK,” he said. “We're also grateful for the UK Government for putting Greece on the list of the countries that it’s possible to travel from the UK.”
He said it was unlikely Britons could later see themselves barred from Greece. “We're monitoring the situation, the UK for a number of weeks is certainly going in the right direction.”
Americans are still banned as cases there continue to set records after President Donald Trump said he wanted the economy to get going again and made light of the soaring cases and deaths and many state governors lifted lockdowns.
Greece continued a ban on tourists from Sweden, where there was no lockdown and COVI Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also said that all flights to and from North Macedonia and Albania will be made only though Athens’ International Airport until July 31, due to a recent rise in coronavirus infections in the two countries.
Greece also extended a ban in the entrance of non-EU citizens until July 31 but is admitting people from Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.