Greece reopens to tourism amid relief and fear from local traders

Giorgos Kapetanos lives on the small Greek island of Gavdos, very close to Crete, where he runs a beautiful restaurant. Giorgios had a relatively calm winter, fishing for squid and enjoying the location and the weather. But as of May 14, Greece opens its doors to tourists, and Giorgos and his family must prepare to receive thousands of tourists on the terrace of their restaurant.

Indeed, in a few days, the situation will change drastically in Greece, where visitors from Europe and other countries will be allowed to travel to the country without the need to quarantine themselves after their arrival. In addition, closure restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 are lifted.

For restaurateurs like Giorgios, the new regulations are nothing more than a real lifeline. And it is that tourism generates in this country more than a quarter of its GDP, employing 16% of its population for it. Since the start of the pandemic, 65,000 jobs have been lost in the tourism sector.

The island of Gavdos has an off-season population of 100 and according to Giorgos, during the winter its inhabitants hardly noticed that there was a global pandemic: “Life went on as usual… But when summer comes, everything changes”.

The entire population of the island has already been vaccinated against COVID-19, in line with the Greek government’s policy to vaccinate residents of small remote islands. A total of 32 islands have already been vaccinated with both doses, while another 36 with a population of less than 10,000 will be fully vaccinated in May. By June, and as promised by the Minister of Health Vasilis Kikilias, all the islands of the country will have their inhabitants vaccinated.

Lee: Greece opens its doors to tourism and lifts mobility restrictions.

It is not an easy task, as some Greek officials remind us: “Can you imagine transporting hundreds of vials, stored in ice, by plane or by boat to all the islands of the Aegean? It takes a lot of effort,” the mayor of Astypalea, Nikolaos Komineas, reminds Euronews.

Komineas is a happy man these days, as he sees how the people of Astypalea paint their doors these days, following tradition before the imminent arrival of summer tourists: “50% of the economy of our island depends on tourism,” says Komineas, “and those working in other sectors, like our honey producers, continue to benefit from the arrival of travelers.”

In Patmos, known for its impressive monastery, the inhabitants are among those who are still waiting. And this despite the fact that, as the president of the hotel union Iacobos Koutlakis recalls, the cases of COVID-19 on the island “could be counted on one hand”.

The battle is not over

But COVID-19 has not gone away. The figures for May 12 spoke of 2,489 infections, with 707 new intubated patients.

So far, only 13% of Greece’s population – more than a million people – have received both doses of the vaccine, with the country ranking eighth out of 27 European Union countries in terms of percentage of population fully vaccinated. . Moreover, only 63% of people over 80 have been vaccinated, while other countries, such as Spain, have already vaccinated 100% of the same age group.

The problem, according to authorities, lies in the skepticism that exists in this country towards vaccines. Marios Themistocleous, secretary general of the health ministry, says some Greeks have been more reluctant than other countries to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, in many cases due to reported cases of blood clots. Vaccine misinformation, according to Themistocleous, is a major problem:

“Misinformation about the vaccine has spread on social media, and this has caused many older people to decide not to get vaccinated,” said Giannis Galanopoulos, executive member of OENGE, the Federation of Hospital Physicians. from Greece, to Euronews. “We should worry about the speed of implementation of the vaccine, on which depends the future of the coming months, but the Greeks are exhausted”, explains the doctor.

Galanopoulos also reveals how “many people don’t understand what the lockdown was for, because it lasted six months and even today we still have many cases of infections. However, further lockdown is unlikely within months. to come, because the economy I would not allow it.”

The Greek government, however, believes that the time has finally come to open up. Akis Skertos, deputy minister in charge of coordinating the work of the government, tried to explain the position of the executive at the conference as follows: “I often hear how it is possible that if last year we are went into lockdown with almost zero infections, today with so many existing cases we are opening up for tourism. Well, because 2021 is not 2020,” Skertos explained. “Last year, population immunity was close to zero, whereas now it is increasing exponentially,” he added.

Greece was the first Mediterranean country to reopen to non-EU tourism, but other countries like Spain and Italy – with a faster pace of vaccine implementation – seem willing to follow in its footsteps.

“Before, you had to choose between dying from COVID or starving. Now we have found hope, thanks to the vaccine”, explains Manolis Perakis in front of the beach he manages. “After six months of confinement, the Greeks themselves feel like tourists in their own country. We can finally enjoy a souvlaki with a beer as if it were the first time,” he jokes.

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