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New Democracy Minister Defends Limited COVID-19 Tests for Tourists

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Civil Protection Deputy Minister for Crisis Management Nikos Hardalias. (Photo by Eurokinissi)

ATHENS - Plans to have random instead of universal testing for the first tourists allowed come to Greece in the wake of the COVID-19 Coronavirus lockdown being gradually lifted and not to quarantine them doesn’t mean health protocols won’t be met, said Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias.

Greece plans to reopen for tourism on July 1 although it’s unclear if international air traffic will fully resume by then and only those from 19 other countries with good records of dealing with the pandemic will be allowed for now.

But the United Kingdom, where the virus has raged and the death toll high has been exempted, with British tourists a big part of the annual flood of people coming to Greece, although Americans for now will be barred after President Trump’s reluctance to deal with the crisis there.

Speaking at the government’s regular public briefing on the course of the epidemic Hardalias said the opening of the economy - tourism is the biggest revenue engine - is being carried out according to a plan that will be reviewed and revised if needed.

“We understand citizens’ concerns about tourism but there must be trust,” he said. “We still have 40 days ahead of us to get ready and to reliably guarantee that all safety standards are met,” he said, reported Kathimerini.

Hardalias said that travelers coming from abroad now will continue to be quarantined for 14 days but only up until May 21, noting the shift in policy was made because only 1 passenger from 2,236 who flew into the country from May 13-20 had tested positive.

International flights will resume on June 15 but only from countries that have successfully contained their infections numbers and only to Athens. That will be extended to all the country’s airports by July 1 if the first phase of the reopening goes well.

Hardalias said that the next easing measure will concern sea travel, which began gradually and will now be extended to all the islands although with hygiene protocols in place and limits on the numbers of passengers who would have to stay at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart under social distancing rules.

The lockdown that was put in place on March 23 and gave Greece one of the best records in the world in dealing with the pandemic over rules limiting why people could leave their homes held down the number of cases and deaths.

It began being lifted cautiously on May 4 with additional reopenings of businesses and parks, beaches and open spaces each week, with bars, cars, and restaurants opening on May 25 but limited to outdoor seating and tables placed further apart.

Hardalias also confirmed that elementary schools, kindergartens and creches would be allowed to reopen on June 1, following encouraging signs from the opening of the country’s middle and high schools that resumed classes.