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Greece has reopened its airports to international travelers in the hopes of salvaging this year’s tourism season and easing an anticipated recession caused by coronavirus lockdowns.
Tourists arriving from countries with high infection rates — like the United States — must take a COVID-19 test and be quarantined for up to two weeks. Travelers from countries with low infection rates will be subject to random testing but will avoid quarantine.
Restrictions on travelers from the United Kingdom and Turkey remain.
Greece has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe, with 3,134 confirmed cases and 184 deaths. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the Greek TV station SKAI that the country is better prepared for what epidemiologists anticipate will be a second wave of infections in the fall.
“Social distancing is now second nature,” Mitsotakis told SKAI, adding that hospitals are equipped with more intensive care unit beds and the government is smarter about testing and contract tracing.
“That means we won’t have to take drastic measures again,” he says. “We will close a school or a neighborhood block or maybe a city.”
A recent survey by the polling agency Pulse shows only 21% of Greeks support another strict lockdown. Greece expects its economy will shrink by 10% this year, just two years after it finally recovered from a long economic depression caused by a debt crisis and the punitive austerity measures demanded by the eurozone in exchange for bailout loans.
Greece relied on tourism to help it recover. Tourism comprises 20% of Greek economic output and roughly 700,000 jobs are dependent on it. Last year, the country received 33 million foreign tourists.
“I’m not interested in making Greece the No. 1 destination in Europe, I’m interested in making Greece the safest destination in Europe,” Mitsotakis told reporters this weekend on the whitewashed island of Santorini, one of the country’s most popular destinations. “We’re trying to save whatever we can from what many considered to be a completely lost tourism season.”
He said everyone in the hospitality industry will be required to wear masks and that social distancing will be enforced. “You can sit on a veranda with this wonderful view,” he said, as the sun set over the caldera of this volcanic island. “You can have your nice Assyrtiko wine, enjoy the beach but we don’t want you crowded in a beach bar.”