Greece’s reopening for tourists has already hit a major snag according to public health officials. The country is tapping the brakes on tourists from some countries already, as coronavirus cases among tourists spike.
Public health officials in Athens reported another rise in the rate of COVID-19 infections, most of them tourism-related, over the last few days. The Health Ministry said 60 new confirmed cases had been recorded in the latest 24-hour reporting period, 42 of which are among incoming travelers. This is the highest daily total since the coronavirus crisis began.
No new deaths have been reported, but the news has prompted officials to tighten controls at border checks and elsewhere for fear another lockdown would cripple the economy and the Greece tourism brand. Greek authorities Friday to announce tougher border checks for tourists as well as more frequent inspections at businesses where crowds are likely to gather.
Athens has also said travelers crossing into the country via rail and roads from neighboring Bulgaria, will be asked to provide proof they have tested negative for coronavirus as cases surged elsewhere in the Balkans. Athanassios Tsakris, head of the department of microbiology at the University of Athens medical school told Skai TV, was quoted by Daily Mail saying:
“Relaxing (lockdown) measures has caused a rebound in the first wave.”
Now, all those entering for non-essential reasons from July 14… are obliged to show a negative (nasal swab) test result up to 72 hours prior to entry,’ government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters. The move came after Bulgaria registered a daily record of 240 new infections on Thursday. Dozens of Balkan tourists tested positive for the virus this week.
Romania has also reported the biggest COVID-19 case surge since the pandemic closed most European borders back in the Spring. Romanian are big fans of Greece vacations, so this is not good news for the reboot of the Greece vacation season.
In Serbia there have been violent protests against the government’s handling of the pandemic, infections have also increased in the past few weeks, and Greek officials have acted accordingly.
Meanwhile, Greece Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis was just present for the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the ministers of foreign affairs of Greece and Hungary to reconnect Athens and Budapest for the 2020 tourism reboot. Minister Theoharis only this week touted how effective Greece’s testing regime has been.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that coronavirus infections are surging in southeastern Europe, where it was thought COVID-19 cases had been curbed. Now some governments facing protests as they restore confinement measures. The resurgence will undoubtedly put a damper on the Greek Summer 2020 campaign results.
Back in June, the Brookings Institute did a report on how Greece could restart its tourism economy without ruining the successes the country has had in containing the virus. Authors William J. Antholis and Filippos Letsas highlighted how moving too quickly might foil all the government’s plans:
“The overall recovery looks less like flicking an on-off switch than gradually pushing up a dimmer. Moving too quickly could not only pose health risks, but also undermine Greece’s new sense of achievement.”
The report also tells of the unique opportunity Greece has to emerge from the pandemic crisis as a powerhouse touristic attraction. But to achieve this, according to Brookings, the leadership will have to literally “reimagine tourism.” So far, we’ve seen a lot of precaution and organization, without any real innovative thinking. Perhaps this is too much to ask in such trying times?