ATHENS – After a slow start July 1 when regional airports opened in Greece to bring in tourists as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is lifting, some 235 flights were due on July 2, more than double the 104 that came the first day the country opened for visitors.
Americans, as well as tourists from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Russia and Brazil are still excluded for at least two weeks despite Greece’s need for as many arrivals as possible because of high infection rates in their countries.
That also, for now, keeps out Greek-Americans who annually return to their homeland in the summer to see family and with the summer already getting into full swing without a full return of international air traffic.
Greece opened the international airports outside Athens and Thessaloniki on June 15 to arrivals from 29 countries with records similarly successful as Greece, where an early lockdown held down the number of cases and deaths.
Non-European citizens are still excluded from entry into the country, except for those from Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
Greece has put strict health protocols into effect in hotels, including seasonal hotels that opened on July 1, but those measures have also been in place across the country with the lockdown lifting but widely ignored or defied.
Health authorities remain on standby to monitor the impact of the next phase of the country’s reopening on its epidemiological profile, said Kathimerini, with teams sent to remote areas and small islands to brief doctors.
Greece also relies on land arrivals from nearby countries where people can drive for their vacations, representing as much as 30 percent of the arrivals and critical for northern Greece.
Only Greece’s Promachonas border crossing with Bulgaria is open to tourists. The other crossings – Evzones, Kakavia, Krystallopigi, Nymfaia and Kipoi – are only open for essential travel now.
Greece relies on tourism as its biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 177.36 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and with 34 million arrivals in 2019 spending 19 billion euros ($21.46 billion.)
COVID-19 hit just as the country was beginning to accelerate a slow recovery from a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis, with three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($363.04 billion) ending Aug. 20, 2018.
The tourism sector employs some 700,000 people directly and indirectly and many are seasonal workers who rely on wages and tips from the crucial summer months to get by the rest of the year.
“We decided in this weird time to come because we feel that it’s a safe country,” said Suzana Vosatkova from the Czech Republic, as she arrived at the airport in Rhodes, reporter the Reuters news agency.
All travelers must fill in a passenger locator form (PLF) https://travel.gov.gr at least 48 hours before entering the country. Random tests will be conducted upon arrival.
Only 20 cases of the virus were reported on June 30, Greece’s early lockdown credited with holding down the numbers but COVID-19 still not gone, keeping officials on alert for now.
“It’s a calculated risk. We do not rush things, we take it one step at a time,” Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis told the news agency.