Greece to welcome tourists as Europe’s coronavirus situation steadily improves

Greece will open this year’s summer tourism season on Monday as Europe is reopening its borders with a steadily improving COVID-19 situation, the country’s prime minister said Saturday.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the announcement at a press conference held during his visit to the Aegean island of Santorini.

“We are opening up to visitors, but we are doing it with your safety as our utmost priority. We have worked very hard to ensure our guests will be safe and stay healthy,” Mitsotakis told international reporters.

“If at any stage we are faced with a localized outbreak, we have the medical and civil protection infrastructure in place to tackle it swiftly and effectively,” he said.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said on Friday that at least 465 hospital beds including 19 intensive care unit beds will be available for coronavirus emergency use on the Greek islands, as a precautionary measure.

Tourism is a key economic pillar for Greece. Mitsotakis said this year the country expects only a fraction of the 33 million arrivals recorded in 2019.

International flights to the Athens and Thessaloniki airports will resume on Monday. Arrivals from 29 countries with positive epidemiological data, including China, will undergo random coronavirus tests, while testing and at-least-one-day quarantine at a designated hotel are required for other travelers until June 30.

On June 5, the European Commission requested member states to have their borders reopened by July 1.

According to the latest report issued by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed its peak in all European Union (EU) countries except Poland and Sweden, with the current number of confirmed cases down 80 percent from the peak time.

Greece has reported a total of 3,112 infections as of Saturday, with 183 deaths. The country’s decision to open its tourism was among the latest moves in Europe towards normalization.

France said on Saturday it will lift all traffic restrictions at its European internal borders on June 15 following a favorable development of the health situation in the country and Europe.

However, caution is still exercised in Europe while easing COVID-19 restrictions. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a statement: “This opening will be gradual and will vary according to the health situation in each of the third countries, and in accordance with the arrangements that will have been agreed at European level by then.”

On Wednesday, Germany said it will, from June 16, allow EU citizens and Swiss nationals to enter unhindered, with a few exceptions. For example, controls for foreigners arriving by plane from Spain will not end until June 21.

While gradually returning to normal, European countries are pushing vaccine development in order to overcome the novel coronavirus and its economic fallout at an early date.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran announced on Saturday that Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA) spearheaded by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands signed an agreement with British drugmaker AstraZeneca to secure a supply to all EU countries of up to 400 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

He said the first deliveries are expected by the end of this year, and that AstraZeneca plans to produce 2 billion doses to make it available to the world for no profit during the pandemic.

He also noted that the alliance will continue cooperation with other pharmaceutical companies to increase the chances of accessing a vaccine “quickly enough and at the best cost.”