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    Greece opens up to tourism in mid June

    Santorini, an island in the southern Aegean Sea

    The Greek government has announced that the tourist season will start on 15 June when hotels will open. As from 1 July, direct foreign flights to all tourist destinations will start gradually.

    In normal times, Greece is an attractive tourist destination. This time, after lockdown restrictions are lifted, it is also safer than most other countries. The restrictions were among the strictest in Europe and kept the death toll much lower than in other countries. The latest figures (20 May) show only 2,840 confirmed cases and 165 deaths.

    The Greek “restart tourism programme” has been in the making since last week when the European Commission presented (13 May) a package of guidelines and recommendations to help member states gradually lift travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to reopen, after months of lockdown, while respecting necessary health precautions.

    The Commission tourism and transport package aims to “offer people the chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and fresh air”. As soon as the health situation allows, people should be able to catch up with friends and family, in their own EU country or across borders, with all the safety and precautionary measures needed in place.

    Considering the importance of tourism for the EU economy, the Commission is eager to open up borders again after they were closed by the member states. For Greece, tourism is more important than for most other member states. The Greek embassy in Brussels told The Brussels Times that tourism is the “number 1 industry” in Greece and amounts to 25% of its GDP.

    Almost 17 % of the workforce is directly employed in tourism, such as hotels and restaurants, but if indirect businesses are included, the figure reaches around 30%.

    The main points of the comprehensive tourism programme were shown to the Commission before it was finalised. In the first phase, starting on 15 June, planes from abroad will land at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens. In line with the Commission’s guidelines, visitors from countries with good epidemiological characteristics will be allowed to enter the country without any tests.

    In the second phase, starting on 1 July, all other airports in the country will open up for visitors from all countries besides those that still show negative epidemiological characteristics. The first wave of 20 countries will be announced before the end of May. After having managed to stop the spread of the virus, Greece is anxious not to import it from other countries.

    Meals and drinks should not be served on board the airplanes. As regards to other safety measures, the Commission has not yet finalised the guidelines and is waiting for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to draft the necessary safety protocols, taking into account scientific evidence.

    To support local tourism business, the government has decided among others to reduce rents and VAT on transports, tourist packages and non-alcoholic beverages during the tourism season. The short-term employment scheme, supported by the Commission SURE initiative, will be in place until September.

    The programme has a strong focus on ensuring the safety of tourists and those working in the local tourism industry. Visitors are encouraged to use a special “VisitGreece” application with all relevant information on health protocols and what to do in case of a health emergency.

    The Ministry of Tourism will lease a tourist accommodation in every tourist area of the country. The place will operate as a “quarantine hotel”, where tourists who are found to be infected by the coronavirus will be hosted.

    Furthermore, every hotel will be obliged to engage a doctor who will decide if a tourist should undergo a coronavirus test. In that case, the test will be completed within 6 hours by the latest, so that anyone tested positive can be transferred to a “quarantine hotel”.

    Special training will be provided to the staff of each hotel in hygiene rules. There will be no buffets in the hotels, only serving at the table, except maybe for very small hotels. Social distancing will be compulsory at tables in hotels and restaurants. Sunbeds will also be thinned out, with a disposable cover for each person using them.

    With all safety measures, keeping visitors and locals healthy, Greece promises to show its traditional hospitality this summer.

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times