People tend to feel safe from outside influences when they’re surrounded by water. But the arrival on Greece’s islands over the past few days of local students and workers returning from other parts of the country and mainlanders self-isolating in their holiday homes is making the islanders jittery.
And given that most of the islands are equipped only with rudimentary healthcare facilities, they have good reason to worry.
Last week, the Regional Authority of the Southern Aegean asked that a ban be put on travelers to the islands who are not permanent residents or have specific work there, while several municipalities, such as that of Amorgos, called on anyone who has presented symptoms of Covid-19 or has traveled abroad recently to stay away.
The phenomenon is particularly acute in the islands of the Cyclades group. “There is a sense that we are isolated, which is why the situation was relatively calm at first,” Angeliki Apergi, a permanent resident of Tinos, tells Kathimerini.
“In the past few days, though, Athenians who have holiday homes on the islands have started arriving and this is creating a lot of insecurity here, as the only facility we have to deal with the coronavirus is a clinic in a shipping container outside the health center.”
The situation is similar on the other islands. “What is bothering people the most here is that the tourism season will not start in April as usual. Many are in serious debt and are thinking about their loans, confident that the virus will never reach us,” says Santorini resident Evi Kovaiou.
“Despite the orders of the municipal authority, people had gathered outside restaurants and cafes that [were allowed to open because they] have delivery services last weekend. What can the state do when people don’t use their common sense?”
Amorgos Mayor Lefteris Karaiskos is trying hard to prevent an outbreak on his island. “Arrivals have been increasing over the past few days,” he says. “We have a lot of locals returning, but also others with houses here. The problem is that no preventive measures are being taken on the ferry boats and we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with serious cases on the island. So we have asked the public to act responsibly and to avoid placing themselves or others at risk.”
On Lemnos, residents were initially concerned about running out of basic supplies. “The situation was pretty relaxed in the early days of the outbreak. Kids were out playing and there were people in the streets. People feel safer because we never get crowds here. The biggest worry had been food and medical supplies,” says resident Maria Tziva.
“Then a boat that had a suspicious case of coronavirus arrived a few days ago and that caused a great deal of anxiety on the island, as you can understand. The individual thankfully tested negative. Then we had students who live in other parts of the country coming back. I also know of one couple from Kastoria who work here and who went back home to fetch their parents and bring them here, where they feel safer. The problem is that if one person gets the virus here, everyone will get it,” she added, referring to one of the Greek regions where there has been a relative high number of Covid-19 cases.
Cruise ships were the biggest bone of contention on the island of Rhodes until recently. “Some local officials were allowing cruise ships to dock here despite the situation. This angered the entire island, except, of course, the handful of people who profited from it,” says architect Dimitris Adamakis.
“Apart from that, there is hardly any traffic on the streets and buses are empty. You’ll only see a few people on the beach, but they won’t be in groups. It is funny that we have shown such discipline; we have a reputation for being stubborn and unruly.”
In contrast, the island of Gavdos, south of Crete, remains truly isolated, especially after several days of high winds prevented ferry boats from reaching it. “There are only about 100 people on the island right now and they’re scattered among three villages. It’s just us here,” says Mayor Manolia Stefanaki.
“The only thing we’re really worried about is that many of our residents are elderly and have health problems. Apart from that, we have learned to live with being cut off.”