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Greece to restart tourism mid-June, international flights July 1

John Hadoulis

Agence France-Presse

Athens, Greece  /  Thu, May 21, 2020  /  02:04 pm
Greece to restart tourism mid-June, international flights July 1

A worker stands outside a store in a narrow alleys in the Greek Cycladic island of Mykonos, on May 12, 2020. (AFP/Aris Messinis)

Greece will restart its tourism season on June 15 and gradually restore international flights from July 1 to boost its economy after the virus lockdown, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday.

With Greece suffering fewer than 170 COVID-19 deaths over two months into the pandemic, Mitsotakis said the country's prompt response to the virus would be a "passport of safety, credibility and health" to attract visitors.

"The tourism period begins June 15, when seasonal hotels can reopen, and direct international flights to our tourist destinations will gradually begin July 1," Mitsotakis said in a televised address.

"We will win the economy war just as we won the health battle," Mitsotakis said.

Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said a list of nations resuming flights to Greece would be announced by the end of May, noting that Athens would focus on reviving a travel front "from the Balkans to the Baltic."

Bulgarians and northern Europeans including Germans will be among the first visitors, the minister said, in addition to Israelis and Cypriots.

Incoming travelers will not be required to undergo virus testing or quarantine, but sample tests will be carried out in tourist areas for epidemiological purposes, the minister said.

Greece so far has carried out fewer than 140,000 tests among 11 million.

Theocharis added that 600 beds would be specifically set aside for coronavirus care on Greek islands, which are traditionally among the country's top travel destinations.

The EU last week said holidaymakers could be asked to wear facemasks on planes, respect social distancing on the beach and even book slots to use hotel pools.

Read also: Acropolis in Athens reopens after virus shutdown

Restaurants to reopen Monday

The country, which is still recovering from a decade-long debt crisis, badly needs tourism income that directly and indirectly accounts for over a fifth of its economy.

Many operators have expressed skepticism about reopening owing to strict spacing rules.

Lockdown restrictions began to be lifted on May 4, reversing a wave of shutdowns which followed Greece's first recorded COVID-19 death on March 12. 

Restaurants are scheduled to reopen on Monday after open-air archaeological sites were opened earlier this week and paid beaches over the weekend. Museums are to reopen on June 15.

According to Bank of Greece figures, the country in 2019 had over 34 million visitors and revenue of over 18 billion euros ($20 billion).

To increase Greece's appeal, tax on all transport will be reduced to 13 percent from the current 24 percent for the coming five months, the prime minister said.

And struggling businesses can be flexible with staff working hours to cut cost, he said.

The Greek finance ministry earlier on Wednesday noted that without support measures for businesses, the country could face an economic contraction of up to 13 percent this year.

The jobless rate is also expected to approach 20 percent this year.

The Greek government has announced a support package of around 24 billion euros, including EU funds, to help shore up the economy.

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