Greece’s strict lockdown kept coronavirus deaths under 200. Now it wants to reopen

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The Greek island of Mykonos’ newest bar-restaurant, Pelican, seemed to appear from nowhere.

Tables, light fixtures and staff members with matching black face masks were still being slotted into place as Greeks visiting the island for a long holiday weekend trickled in to check out the place. The owner expects a slow slummer but says he’s in a hurry to get back to business.

Greece is, too.

Heavily reliant on tourism, the country is officially reopening to foreigners on Monday after closing its borders to most during the coronavirus pandemic. Its hopes are pinned on popular tourist destinations such as Mykonos and the islands of Rhodes, Corfu, Crete and Santorini, where regular ferry service already resumed and direct international flights are set to restart on July 1.

The Greek government has taken a gamble in deciding to relax COVID-19 health inspections at ports and airports in order to avoid another crippling recession, having only recently emerged from an economically painful period sparked by the international financial crisis.

Pelican’s owner, Vasilis Theodorou, has a view of the situation that is more steadfast than starry-eyed. Mykonos would normally be packed in early June, but it’s beaches were empty. Tourism might be down by as much as 80 per cent this year, “so we’re waiting for the 20 per cent, and we’re happy,” Theodorou said.

“No matter how much we wish for it and want it, it won’t be more than that,” he said. “We expect that tourists from central Europe will come first, and hopefully Americans at a later stage. They are our best customers.”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged Saturday that Greece is prepared for a huge drop from the 33 million visitors who came to Greece last year. Addressing foreign journalists Saturday during a visit to Santorini, Mitsotakis went on a full sales pitch, touting everything from local products to the possibilities of year-round tourism in Greece.

“We don’t know the real impact of (a truncated tourist season) on GDP,” he said, “A lot will depend on whether people feel comfortable to travel and whether we can project Greece as a safe destination.”

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Timely and strictly enforced lockdown measures have so far kept the infection rate in Greece low and the death toll below 200. But reopening means islands — many with only basic health facilities and previously sheltered from the outbreak on the Greek mainland — will again be receiving visitors from around the world far in excess of the local population.

Mykonos Mayor Konstantinos Koukas told the AP that islanders feel prepared and have clear government guidelines.


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