Greek rule-makers have announced a night curfew still in place from the previous months’ lockdown will remain in view of slower-than-expected vaccination rates and the appearance of new strains on the island of Crete. The shortcomings of the so-called “Blue Freedom” island vaccination effort and sagging traveler confidence now come into crisp focus. Questions of whether or not Greece reopened tourism prematurely may soon be answered.
Last week Government Spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni suggested that patience will be needed until perhaps the end of June before the 12:30 to 5 am curfew might be lifted. Epidemiologists are urging Greeks to get vaccinated while continuing to adhere to social distancing and mask rules. The appearance of new Russian and Norwegian strains of COVID-19 on Crete, has experts worried as well.
The Covid committee of Greece is expected to convene later today to examine the possibility of extending on June 15 the curfew by an hour, excluding vaccinated individuals from self-test requirements, and re-opening nightclubs and bars. While the country has exhibited an overall drop in the number of cases, officials are still admonishing residents to get vaccinated. What’s at stake are the lives and the livelihoods of everyone tied to tourism in the country.
But the curfew is the least of Greece’s tourism problems. Without better numbers, Greece stands little chance of recouping the season. Key for hoteliers are the UK and American tourists, but unfortunately, Greece remained on the United Kingdom’s “Amber List” in the newest revisiting of the travel advisory system. And despite the fact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) saying Americans can travel internationally with a vaccine, the U.S. State Department still has Greece on the “Do Not Travel” list.
The numbers say about 2.16 million people have been fully vaccinated in Greece, which is only about 20 percent of the population. Officials also claim one of the so-called Blue Freedom initiatives has been called to a half because of low turnout. Greece’s General Secretary of Primary Health Care, Marios Themistokleous, was cited saying Samos is one of five islands with the lowest turnout with only 30.32 percent of the island population vaccinated.
Island destinations are crucial for Greek tourism businesses as illustrated by this report from CNN on Mykonos wanting to party like before COVID. Unfortunately, vaccination rates even on this famous party island are running behind. It seems clear that no one in Athens foresaw the psychological impact of fully opening to tourists before everyone in Greece was protected. This was one problem last year before the second wave hit. Giving residents the “all clear” by reopening to maskless tourists was a huge mistake.
Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said three weeks ago that everyone on these islands would be fully vaccinated by the end of June at the latest. But many of the small islands have a long way to go. And Greece’s big island of Crete was not prioritized like the others, so the end of Summer seems like a more realistic goal here. Officials have so far blamed young people for spreading the virus, old people for being ignorant and not getting vaccinated, the European Union, and the drug companies for not supplying the shots, and now residents are again to blame.