ATHENS – Desperate for tourists to return in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, Greece has changed course and said it will not bar those from the hardest-hit countries but that they would be tested and put into quarantine for up to 14 days.
It wasn't explained how that would work if travelers were coming for less than 14 days or why anyone coming for a vacation would be willing to do so if they were quarantined nor where that would be or who would pay for it.
The New Democracy government said the first tourists that would be allowed to arrive starting June 15 would be limited to 29 countries with records as relatively successful as Greece in holding down the number of cases and fatalities.
That prohibited those from the United States and United Kingdom where President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted imposing lockdowns until it was too late, seeing cases and deaths soar.
The first wave of tourists primarily are from countries within driving distance to Greece as tourism won't fully resume until July 1 although it's unclear whether international air traffic will be in full force by then, and with hotels and tourism industries required to implement strict hygiene protocols.
The two-tiered policy, which revised information the Greek government issued May 29 could be extended after the end of June if needed with high-ranking tourism ministry officials not identified telling the Associated Press the government needed to clarify why only 29 countries were approved.
According to the officials and the Foreign Ministry document, a limited number of international flights will continue only being allowed to land at Athens International Airport until June 15. Per European Union policy, every arriving passenger must be tested for the virus and stay overnight at a designated hotel.
Visitors who test negative are required to self-quarantine for seven days, while the ones who test positive must spend 14 days under a supervised quarantine.
Greece is taking steps to welcome more visitors in time for the summer vacation season. Starting June 15, international flights also can land in Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city. Those from the 29 designated countries, the majority of them in Europe, will be subject to random tests.
Passengers from all other countries will have to continue getting tested, staying overnight at specific hotels, and quarantining for either seven or 14 days.
The 29 countries first announced are: Albania, Australia, Austria, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Estonia, Japan, Israel, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, South Korea, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Finland.
The list was drawn up based on a document from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency of airports worldwide “located in affected areas with high risk of transmission of the COVID-19 infection.”
Starting July 1, all Greek airports that can handle international traffic will reopen to flights from abroad.
At that time, random screening for the virus will apply to all arriving passengers unless public health considerations dictate stricter testing, a tourism ministry official said.
Additionally, international arrivals by sea will also be allowed as of July 1, also subject to random testing.
Foreigners traveling by land also will be permitted to enter Greece from neighboring Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia – but not Turkey – and be subject to random testing.
“Greece at any stage retains the right to modify any of the above in light of changing circumstances,” the Foreign Ministry document states.
Greece imposed a lockdown early in its coronavirus outbreak, a move credited with limiting infections. The country had a total of 175 deaths and 2,915 confirmed cases as of May 30.
No cases have been detected on the vast majority of the Greek islands, which are popular vacation spots and to which ferries have resumed service but at only 50 percent capacity and social distancing required.
Tourism and related industries make up around 20% of the Greek economy of 180.35 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and bring in the most money and were projected to see business drop off as much as 70 percent after a run of successive record years.
The government wants to salvage as much as it can of the summer season, the peak and most important, which employs 350,000 people directly as as much as twice that indirectly as well.
At this point “we are at point zero” concerning relaunching tourism traffic lost during the pandemic, a tourism ministry official told the AP, adding that it will take at least two or three weeks to see if bookings start to pick up then.