RHODES — Sounds like a dream vacation: paid to stay at a 5-Star hotel on the Greek island of Rhodes for a week except that there’s a catch: as part of a tourism experiment during the COVID-19 pandemic, they can’t leave the premises.
Nearly 200 visitors from The Netherlands, from ages 18-70, are taking part as Greece’s New Democracy government wants to open on May 14 to tourists who can show proof of vaccination or being free of the Coronavirus.
For seven days, the Dutch travelers can live the high life in a luxury hotel and swim in the pool, but not cross the street to swim in the Mediterranean Sea that’s so close but so far away for them.
Greece is technically still in a pseudo-lockdown more than five months old but which has been either defied so much or eased that street and pedestrian traffic seems normal again and people can shop in stores with time limits or online and pick up goods outside.
But it’s tourism that the government is counting on to boost an economy crippled by the pandemic, stripping Greece of its biggest revenue engine, accounting for 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 167.27 billion euros ($200.3 billion) annually.
The Dutch tourists’ “hotel quarantine” is taking place as part of a pilot program being run by Dutch operator Sunweb, in cooperation with the Greek and Dutch governments, reported Euronews.
A Greek tourism ministry official told the news outlet Agence France-Presse (AFP) the tourists "will respect the containment measures in force in the country and will stay for a week in a hotel in Rhodes, all-inclusive, without being allowed to go out.”
There were contrary and supporting views on social media, the report said, with some Greeks comparing the stay to a stint in prison, albeit with a swimming pool and room service.
One Twitter user commented darkly: “They paid to look at the walls.” But others said it was a good idea, masked hotel staff posed for pictures last week to celebrate the optimistic “Grand Reopening”.
The only foreign travellers to Greece who are not required to show a negative coronavirus test are Israelis who have been vaccinated, under a bilateral agreement that saw Greece break away from European Union protocols.
Dozens of German tourists came earlier, to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, one of them testing positive for COVID-19. The Tourism Ministry said they were mainly Germans who owned second homes in Greece and "in any case, (are) subject to the containment measures in force in the country".
The Dutch tourists will also undergo “rapid tests” before leaving Greece on April 16, state Greece’s state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) also reported.