I hate to say “I told you so,” but the Greek government’s “Blue Freedom” scheme to put fill remote islands with tourists this summer just blew up in their political faces. News from Reuters tells of Greece’s south Aegean islands being marked ‘dark red’ on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid-19 map yesterday.
According to the reports, a rise in infections has the EU doctors advising only essential travel to a cluster of 13 islands including Mykonos, Santorini, and Rhodes. The tourism ministry has been going all out promoting “Covid-free” islands to draw visitors back this summer, but procedural mistakes and rising cases have all but ended hopes of 2021 being a success.
Last week Crete was downgraded to dark red as well. These dark red zones on the ECDC map distinguish very high-risk areas for travelers and also help EU member states uphold rules requiring testing on departure and quarantine upon return. Herein lies the big problem, since no tourist wants to visit paradise only to be quarantined when arriving back home.
Back in May, Greece rushed to fully vaccinate islanders in a plan called “Blue Freedom” as a priority even above immunizing at-risk residents on the mainland, and even here in Crete. Back then Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the operation would be carried out within a month for residents over the age of 18 on those islands.
Now, the notorious party islands of Mykonos and Ios could be shut down if the Delta variant infection rates surge further. Greek deputy civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters this week, that Mykonos and Ios were “one step” away from authorities imposing further restrictions, and that the situation on the islands of Zakynthos, Tinos, Lefkada, Santorini, Paros, and Rhodes are also of concern.
Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis seems to be playing coy over the implosion of the plan, and the scapegoats once again are young people. What nobody is reporting is the fact that retirees and big families are not booking two-week vacations to Ios or Mykonos, but partiers are. As was the case when vaccines were in short supply, officials point the finger at any likely suspect other than themselves. Strangely, the police and other authorities do not seem to be investigating boat parties and rendezvous at places like Rhenia Island about 4 miles off Mykonos.
Operation Blue Freedom had disaster written all over it from the start. Over the past 24 hours, Greece officials reported some 2.696 new coronavirus cases across the country. As of yesterday, the incidence rate of infection on Mykonos is going down from over 400 per 100,000 to just under 200 per 100,000 people on the island. However, even the reduced incidence is still the highest rate anywhere in Greece.
The second highest is Rhodes, followed by Tinos Island, and Chania town in Crete. The fact is, COVID-19 cases do not seem to be going down no matter what officials do, which tells us new initiatives seem like the only solution. EODY chief Panagiotis Arkoumaneas Skai a week ago that the “transmission rate of Delta variant is terrifying.”