NEWS

Health experts wary of arrivals from abroad

PENNY BOULOUTZA

TAGS: Coronavirus, Travel, Tourism, Health

As Greece prepares to open its airports to international tourism, health authorities are wary of the risk of a flare-up of the coronavirus epidemic after 12 passengers flying into Athens from Doha tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 earlier this week.

Their concerns that Greece faces a challenging summer appear to be backed by the numbers, too. Data from the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) show that in the 10-day period from May 24 to June 2, 25 of the 69 new cases that were confirmed in the country were related to foreign travel (and include the 12 passengers from Doha) – a rate of 36.3%. That is higher than the rate of 21.8% from the start of the crisis and until Tuesday afternoon, when  651 of the country’s 2,937 confirmed infections were linked to foreign travel.

“In the past few days, the one word we keep hearing in the meeting rooms, offices and hallways of EODY is ‘arrivals.’ Given that circulation of the virus has almost stopped in the local community, this is what can change the picture in the country,” says Georgios Panagiotakopoulos, an infectious disease expert from the University of Patra, who has worked at several London hospitals.

Sailing in uncharted waters, the experts are designing health protocols to respond to different possible scenarios in a bid to protect the local community as well as visitors once the tourism season restarts on June 15.

Until June 15, all passengers arriving from abroad will be tested for the virus and quarantined for 14 days at specially designated hotels if they test positive. The period from June 15 to 30 is seen acting as a “bridge” in the effort to return to some form of normalcy, as visitors from 29 countries that have been deemed safe by European aviation authorities will undergo random testing. If one passenger on a flight tests positive, the rest will also have to tested.

Testing will be mandatory for all arrivals from countries that are not on the “safe” list of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) until the end of the month and if all goes well, only random spot checks will be conducted as of July 1.

Online