ATHENS — The spreading COVID-19 Delta variant from India that's becoming the dominant strain in Greece has set off jitters in the tourism sector just as waves of foreign visitors are arriving, the development upsetting revenues expectations.
While vaccinations had worked to bring down the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, a majority of people in Greece have refused to be inoculated and the New Democracy government isn't making shots mandatory.
The fiscal side effect of that could be another critical crunch and has led already to revisions over how much money will be brought in from tourism, which represents as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 169.83 billion euros ($200.3 billion).
The government's advisory panel of doctors, scientists and epidemiological specialists and professors will review the data as it's changing to make recommendations on any new measures or restrictions.
An already lenient lockdown has essentially been lifted but defiance of requirements to wear masks and stay safe social distances, along with the Delta strain and wild parties and public gatherings has led to rising cases, noted Kathimerini in a feature on the developments.
But the government is anxious that hopes that this year would bring in half of the record 9.1 billion euros ($10.73 billion) in 2019 won't be met, another blow to slow recovery estimates.
There was some good news with the United Kingdom, a major market for tourism in Greece, going to allow travelers to come to a number of countries without having to quarantine on return.
Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told the paper that, taking into consideration all the factors, “We can only assess as particularly positive some factors, such as the number of arrivals during June,” which were nevertheless lower than hoped.
Spinning it, he said that, “We did much better than the corresponding month last year, while now the decision of the British government to lift the restrictions on its vaccinated citizens is very important and we expect a positive impact on Greek tourism,” for the summer.
But he said the government will prioritize public health although Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier admitted there would be political factors that had to taken into account as well for now.
“We will not hesitate to tighten the health protocols,” he said, adding that ”from the first moment, the message was: We open safely – we follow the protocols – we speed up the vaccinations,” said Theoharis.