ATHENS — While proclaiming that tourists aren't contributing to a sudden and sharp surge of COVID-19 cases – primarily the Delta variant – Greece's New Democracy government said it will require unvaccinated tourism workers to be regularly tested.
That came after photos showed huge crowds on some popular islands, such as Mykonos, people packed next to each other without masks or keeping a safe social distance although visiting them are supposed to be vaccinated, have a negative PCR test or proof they have recovered from the Coronavirus.
Mykonos, Santorini, Ios, Paros and the cities of Rethymnon and Heraklion on the island of Crete have all seen rapid increases, Deputy Citizen’s Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told a news conference, reported the Reuters news agency.
There have been cases of COVID on islands among tourists, leading the government to mandate that tourism workers, as well as crew on ferries and cruise ships, will have to be tested twice a week if they haven’t been vaccinated.
The government is making inoculations mandatory for health care workers but not for tourism workers without explaining why as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is trying to balance saving lives against bringing the economy back.'
Health measures are being tightened again after they were loosened during an already lenient lockdown largely being ignored and with repeated scenes of huge gatherings and wild parties, especially on islands.
The government said customers at indoor restaurants and bars would have to prove they had been vaccinated but is also going to allow mixed venues where they would be allowed to mingle with the unvaccinated.
Greece reported 2,794 new infections on July 15, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 450,512. COVID-related deaths have reached 12,819 and cases have jumped 10 times in recent weeks.
But hospital admissions haven't soared, said Vana Papaevangelou, a member of a committee of health experts advising the government, adding that unvaccinated people over 50 were in danger of falling seriously ill if they contract the virus.
About 48% of Greek adults have been fully vaccinated, far short of the 70 percent of the population of 10.7 million needed to beat back the pandemic and restore the economy and tourism, which had been on a run of consecutive record years.
Tourists are not to blame for a surge of COVID-19 infections in Greece, Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told a hotel owners conference, the news agency reported as the government wants to keep people coming and spending.
There are hopes that visitors and revenues will hit 45 percent of the last record year of 2019 before the pandemic essentially shut down tourism and the country during the dangerous period of 2020. Some 30 million people came in 2019.
Tourism brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 169.49 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and had employed almost a million people, including indirectly.
"The opening of tourism was done very carefully, in the first 10 days of July just 74 out of 105,609 samples taken at the country's entry points were positive, just 0.07 percent,” Theoharis said.
"Our country does not have a problem with the opening of its borders," he said. "The rise in infections is not related to tourism,” he insisted.
"We can not allow deniers of science to lead our country into adventures," Theoharis said in reference to people still refusing to get vaccinated as the government won't shots compulsory for all even to save the wobbling economy.