Health safety is top priority for Greece as tourism season starts: PM

Greece is ready to welcome visitors again with health safety as the top priority in the new COVID-19 era, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday during a visit to the Santorini Island.

This year’s summer tourism season opens on June 15 with the resumption of international flights for tourists to Athens and Thessaloniki airports, later than previous years due to the epidemic.

Mitsotakis gave a press conference to international media on Saturday on the picturesque Aegean Sea island to convey the message across the globe that Greece has taken all necessary measures for the reopening of tourism after this spring’s lockdown.

“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 said.

“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 stressed.

The country was in full lockdown from March 23 until May 4 and in recent weeks is gradually entering the new normalcy, after managing to flatten the curve.

Tourism, one of the key motors for the Greek economy for decades, was one of the last sectors to restart.

As of June 15, travelers from 29 countries with positive epidemiological data, including China, will be subject to sample testing only upon arrival.

All other visitors from countries on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) list of affected areas with a high risk of transmission of COVID-19 will, until June 30, have to be tested upon arrival and spend at least one night at a designated hotel at the expenses of the Greek state.

As of July 1, Greece will fully open all its airports to flights from abroad and to all sailings from other countries. Seven overland border points will also reopen. Tourists will be subject only to random sampling.

Due to the pandemic, Greece expects this year only a fraction of the 33 million arrivals registered last year, Mitsotakis said, stressing that the country is seizing the opportunity to review its tourism model in the coming years to focus on sustainability as well.

Greece also aims to extend its tourism season, building more on its rich cultural heritage for travelers all year round and for those who have more interest in archaeological sites, like Chinese tourists, said the prime minister, when responding to a question by Xinhua.

“We hope there is not going to be a second pandemic wave so our plan is certainly to be able to extend our season…The more we can extend our season towards October or even November in terms of our summer product the better it will be,” Mitsotakis added.

The fusion between culture and tourism is for us a great opportunity to extend our season, he told Xinhua.

Before the press conference, Mitsotakis visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri, a prehistoric settlement that was destroyed by the eruption of Santorini’s volcano.

During a visit to the island’s general hospital, he was briefed on the readiness of the local healthcare system to cope with any potential cases.

According to the latest update from the Greek authorities on Saturday, a total of 3,112 confirmed infections of COVID-19, including 183 deaths, have been registered in Greece since Feb. 26, when the first case was diagnosed.

Four new infections and no deaths were reported within the past 24 hours.