Greece has brought forward its planned reopening to tourists to June 15 as pressure mounts on European destinations to roll back coronavirus restrictions to stave off economic collapse.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the new date in a national address on Wednesday, saying only tourists from countries with acceptably low rates of virus infection would be permitted.
He confirmed that most flights to the country would resume by July 1.
Greece has suffered fewer than 170 Covid-19 deaths and has reported fewer than 3,000 cases two months into the pandemic. Mitsotakis said the country’s fast response and success in containing the virus would be a “passport of safety, credibility and health ” to visitors.
“We will win the economic battle just like we won the health one”, Mitsotakis said, warning that the financial impact from the coronavirus would be immense.
Tourists will be allowed to enter Greece without taking a coronavirus test or remaining in quarantine. Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said health officials will conduct spot tests when required.
The government has said that healthcare capacity will be boosted at popular tourist destinations with medical staff and improved facilities, along with a comprehensive plan for the handling of possible infections.
Tourism is the main engine of the Greek economy, accounting for nearly 20% of the country’s gross domestic product and one in four jobs. Having already suffered a decade of financial troubles, Greece desperately needs to restore its main income source.
Despite the country’s success in containing the virus, a number of indicators predict Greece is set to face the sharpest economic hit in the European Union as a result of the coronavirus because of its dependency on tourism.
Greek authorities are now hoping to soften the economic blow by being able to reopen the vital tourism sector earlier than other countries in the area, including Italy and Spain, that have been more heavily hit by the virus.
However, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday said it would open its borders to all EU countries, with no mandatory quarantine, on June 3.
The measures announced by the Greek government are both long-term and seasonal, covering the summer months that account for most of the tourism revenue. Tax reductions for the travel and hospitality sector are being introduced while worker salaries, in the tourism, catering and industrial sectors will be subsidized through EU mechanisms.
According to the Greek Tourism Ministry, more than 33 million tourists visited the country last year. Forecasts for the summer in early 2020 had been indicating another record year.
As part of the gradual easing of an over two-month lockdown, beaches re-opened over the weekend while the Acropolis in Athens opened to visitors again Monday along with over 200 archaeological sites.
Bars and restaurants are expected to resume operations on May 25 the same day that a travel ban to the Greek islands will also be lifted.