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Politics

Mitsotakis: Greek Islands to Get Accelerated Vaccination Program

NAXOS — A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.

"The goal is the universal and complete vaccination of the permanent residents of the islands by the end of June at the latest. That is, for our islanders to welcome this summer safe and completely protected from the coronavirus. It is clear that this programme seeks to support local island communities and their economy. However, it also aspires to send a positive signal for the overall image of our tourism," Mitsotakis said at the beginning of the meeting.

The campaign concerns the universal vaccination of all adult residents over 18 on 19 islands, with the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Meanwhile, vaccinations on another 32 islands are already completed and for another 36 islands are due to be completed by the end of May.

The prime minister stressed that the first large delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the end of the month will be directed to the islands, in order to build the first wall of immunity.

Mitsotakis also noted that "as we gradually open up economic and social activity, great care is demanded from everyone."

Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.

On the island of Naxos, a popular family holiday destination, officials welcomed the initiative. Mayor Dimitris Lianos told The Associated Press that the single dose vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson was also being deployed to speed up the program. “By the end of June, all our year-round residents will be vaccinated and that’s very important for us because it creates a sense of safety for the people that live here and for the people who will visit our island,” Lianos said.

Robin Rose Varthalitou, and 69-year-old Naxos resident from Wales said she was relieved the vaccination drive was expanding.

“There's been no problem. No worries. It’s fine,” she said of the immunization program so far. "I reckon everybody should do it by law… This (pandemic) is a tragedy everywhere, financially and for people. A tragedy.”

Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece's population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday. 

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