Greece is opening its borders to mass tourism in stages, starting mid-June, hoping its success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic will attract visitors from abroad.
Greece is prepared for a huge drop in visitors from last year's 33 million, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged Saturday.
"We don't know the real impact of (a truncated tourist season) on GDP," Mitsotakis said, addressing foreign media at the end of a day-long visit to the island of Santorini, one of Greece's prime tourist destinations. "A lot will depend on whether people feel comfortable to travel and whether we can project Greece as a safe destination."
Speaking against the impressive backdrop of Santorini's caldera, the lagoon formed after the last immense eruption of the island's dormant volcano, some 3,600 years ago, Mitsotakis went on a full sales pitch, touting everything from local products to the possibilities of year-round tourism in Greece.
Asked if opening the counjtry to visitors might jeopardize the government's efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Mitsotakis said that "there is no risk-ree approach…we are doing the best we can" and emphasized that the economy will operate under "very robust guidelines" enforcing social distancing and other measures, such as mandatory wearing of masks in transport as welll as by all catering personnel.
"I believe the worst (of the pandemic) is over and I don't think a full lockdown will be necessary…in case of a localized outbreak, we have the medical and civil protection infrastructure in place to tackle it safely and efficiently," Mitsotakis said.
Greece has so far had 3,112 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 183 fatalities.
During the past four days, in the Athens International Airport, the only one in the country open to international travel, some 4,000 tests were conducted on all arriving passengers and only two tested positive, both asymptomatic.
From Monday, the Thessaloniki Airport will also open in Greece's second largest city and testing will vary depending on the profile of the country of origin. Passengers arriving from relatively safe destinations will be tested randomly, while, in other flights, all passengers will be tested.
Tourism is especially important for Greece: some 350,000 jobs depend directly on it, and about double that number indirtectly, Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told the Associated Press a week ago.
"Hopefully in 2021, we'll have a vaccine; 2021 will be a bumper year," Mitsotakis said.