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Greece reopens to tourists, with coronavirus tests on arrival

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A passenger on the deck of a ferry as it approaches the Aegean Sea island of Serifos, Greece, on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
A passenger on the deck of a ferry as it approaches the Aegean Sea island of Serifos, Greece, on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
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Hotels, golf courses and public swimming pools have now reopened in Greece, where authorities are ramping up preparations for the crucial summer tourism season.

The Greek government is keen to ensure the season is not lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and that holidaymakers can safely return to the country’s beauty spots. Taxes on airplane and boat tickets have been cut to make prices more attractive.

Tourism accounts for almost one-fifth of the Greek economy, and reopening the industry is vital to the country's recovery. According to the Tourism Ministry, 350,000 jobs depend directly on tourism, as many as double that number indirectly.

International flights with screening procedures will return to Athens and Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki starting on June 15 and will be expanded to the rest of the country on July 1.

Most airlines have already started selling tickets to Greece.

"The good news in the case of Greece is that it is going to be more than 50 per cent, probably close to 55 per cent of our planned capacity and around about 90 per cent of all our planned Greek routes," said Ryanair Chief Commercial Officer David O'Brien.

Greece restarted regular ferry services to its islands last week, and cafes and restaurants were also back open for business as the country accelerated efforts to salvage its tourism season.

Compulsory or random testing

Currently, every passenger arriving in Greece must be tested for the virus and stay overnight at a designated hotel. Visitors who test negative are required to self-isolate for seven days, while the ones who test positive must spend 14 days under a supervised quarantine.

From June 15, the rules will be somewhat relaxed, depending on where tourists come from.

International passengers will be accepted into the country without having to systematically undergo a coronavirus test or be placed in quarantine, unless they come from airports that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has put on its list of high-risk areas.

The list currently includes passengers coming from Paris airports, northern Italy, Belgium, Spain, the UK and the United States, among others. These passengers deemed at a higher risk of infection can still come to Greece, but they will have to comply with existing compulsory quarantine rules.

That means being tested on arrival and then going in self-isolation for seven days or being placed in supervised quarantine for 14 days, depending on whether the test comes out negative or positive.

Euronews spoke to one tourist from Finland, who explained how the procedure went for him.

"I took a flight from Helsinki to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Athens. I had to stay one day here with the quarantine, they tested me and everything was ok, and now I can continue my travels," he explained. Passengers who test negative can indeed comply with self-isolation at the destination of their choice, while those placed under quarantine must do so in a supervised location in Athens.

Restrictions will be further relaxed from July 1: International flights will be allowed to all airports in Greece and visitors will be subject only to random tests. Restrictions applying to specific countries might be announced at a later date.

Land border arrivals from Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria will also be allowed from June 15, with visitors only subject to random tests upon arrival.

The Greek government says the nation’s success in containing the virus should reassure visitors worried about their health and safety.

Strict public safety measures have kept the country's COVID-19 infection rate low. Greece has seen only 175 virus-related deaths, according to health ministry data.