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Society

Neither Heat, Nor Pandemic, Nor COVID Keeps Americans from Greece

ATHENS — They aren't coming in big numbers like before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, but Americans are still flocking to Greece for summer vacations – despite a brutal heatwave and US warnings the country isn't safe because of a rebound of COVID-19.

Temperatures at one point in some parts of the country hit more than 116 degrees before abating, but in the middle of it there were more than 100 fires, including several north of Athens that forced evacuations.

Athens was covered with white soot and haze, the smell of smoke so intense and the danger to the respiratory system so high that people were warned to stay inside or to wear surgical-quality N95 masks – in plentiful supply because of the pandemic – if venturing out.

More than 125,000 travelers from the US had come after the doors were opened to safe travelers in July, those with proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test or proof of having recovered from the Coronavirus.

They were a godsend to tourist industries, especially hotels and restaurants starving for customers although a resurgence of COVID because of the unvaccinated – including tourism workers on islands – has brought a setback. 

The heat wave is the worst in 34 years, although air conditioning not readily available in 1987 when record heat struck killed nearly 1,000 people – and now because of the burden on the electrical grid, people were advised to keep temperatures higher in their homes even with A/C.

Tourism is the biggest revenue engine for Greece, bringing in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 169.62 billion euros ($200.3) and employing almost a million people during record years busted in 2020 by the pandemic.

There were a record 33 million people who came in 2019, spending some $45 billion but the New Democracy government had hoped for half that this year before the Delta Variant struck and vaccinations lagged, not made mandatory.

In a feature, CNN noted that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Aug. 3 added Greece, along with 15 other countries, to its "very high" COVID travel list as too risky to visit, but they're still coming.

So are people from other countries, including the United Kingdom which also advised Greece isn't a safe country, not deterring many Brits.

Lucy Thackray, a visitor from London to Lefkada, one of the Ionian islands off the west coast of the Greek mainland, had put her sightseeing plans on hold "to stand in the pool with a frozen drink,” because of blistering temperatues.

"I've taken two boats to pretty beaches, but I'm not doing any sightseeing that isn't water-adjacent," she said. "I wouldn't go hiking or wander round the towns. It definitely feels too hot to do stuff – even in the evenings it's sweaty-hot."

JT Genter, a digital nomad from the US who joined those moving to Greece because they can work anywhere in the world, said it was too hot to do almost anything, temperatures over 100 degrees when he and his wife arrived.

"We went to the Acropolis at midday, bought our tickets online per the signage, and walked to the open gates, to be told that they were closed until 5 p.m." he said, but that it was worth braving the heat. A lot of Americans agree.

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