ATHENS – With Greece wanting tourists to return in July as lockdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus begin being gradually lifted, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it’s essential to have European Union-wide uniform health protocols.
He told CNN that’s what’s needed to insure the safety of customers in hotels and tourist areas to make them confident they will be protected, with hotels having to have strict cleaning procedures and even limiting people and keeping restaurants and bars closed.
Tourism makes up as much as 18-20 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 184.57 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and had been the saving grace during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis.
Greece needed 326 billion euros ($353.78 billion) in three bailouts that began in 2010 to stay afloat, and was accelerating a slow recovery after they ended on Aug. 20, 2018, before COVID-19 hit.
There were fears tourism could fall off as much as 52-70 percent and be unable to refill state coffers drained by 17.5 billion euros ($18.99 billion) in aid to laid-off workers and businesses required to be closed during the lockdown.
Greece’s tourism restart will also depend on whether international air traffic resumes again in force as airlines are unsure how many people can be on board and have to insure health measures as well, including the wearing of masks and sterilizing surfaces.
“The real question is will we be able to have tourists come in the later parts of the summer,” he said. Asked whether this will be possible, he responded: “Only if we agree to very specific protocols. Hopefully at a European level.”
This could involve people getting tested before they fly out and then they are carefully monitored once they arrive, either with an antibody or other test to monitor them for any sign of the virus.
“Tourism experience this summer may be slightly different from what you’ve had in previous years, with more social distancing, maybe no bars open but you can still get a fantastic experience in Greece provided that the global epidemic is on a downward path,” he said, adding that much depends on what the airlines do.
He said COVID-19 could see the GDP shrink 10 percent after growth of 2-3 percent had been expected and his New Democracy party was aiming at a full return to markets and luring foreign investors before the pandemic struck.l
Mitsotakis said that the success of the first phase in containing the virus brought Greece recognition after the country had been kicked around by critics during the long years of austerity and bailouts.
“What I keep as a legacy is this sense of collective success and I dare to use the word pride,” he said, following plaudits from around the world for his ceding the limelight to scientists and the medical community which provided lockdown guidance.