Greece may be a top vacation destination, but for the British, Americans and Italians dreaming of getting away, the country will be off limits for some time. The government in Athens has left them off a list of 29 countries from which Greece will start accepting visitors, as it scrambles to mitigate the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has spelled for its biggest money-making industry: tourism.
Greek tourism officials say travelers from the permitted countries will be able to enter Greece beginning June 15... allowed to touch down only at the capital's main international airport... and the northern metropolis of Thessaloniki... not other sun-kissed destinations.
The list of 29 countries was drafted following a strict review of global airport regulations and COVID-19 infection rates.
Tourism minister Harris Tehoharis explains why.
He says the so-called safe list is part of a plan stitched together to best secure both foreign travelers and the country after the government in Athens managed to successfully handle the pandemic by taking draconian lockdown measures early on ... keeping registered infection rates under 3,000 and the death toll at 175.
All 29 countries, including several Balkan nations, Israel and even China and Japan, boast low infection rates. Travelers coming in from them will be screened for COVID-19 but allowed to vacation freely without the need of lockdown requirements or quarantines.
Depending on changes in infection rates, the list of countries could change before all travelers will be allowed to the country on July 1.
But with the US, Britain and Italy hit hardest by the pandemic, health experts like Gikas Magiorkas warn it may be months, even beyond the July date, before travelers from those countries will be able to visit.
"I don't see them visiting any time soon, he says. Depending on how the first wave of entries goes, authorities may increase the number of screening tests for those coming in from high-risk countries, to boost security and tracking levels," said Magiorkas.
British and American travelers normally make up the biggest and most affluent pool of visitors to Greece... bringing in billions each year in hard currency.
Italy, meantime has snapped back at Greece's designs, saying blacklisting countries and travelers isn't fair, and that Italy would not allow itself to be viewed and treated as what one leading official called "a leper colony."
Despite Greece's scramble to open for tourism, many industry officials remain reluctant.
Grigoris Tassis, president of the Greek hotel owners association, explains
He says hotel owners have not received fundamental directives from the state, including information on how to deal with COVID-19 cases that may emerge while travelers are on holiday here.
On the island of Crete, a favorite holiday destination, many large hotel chains are choosing to open just a fraction of their facilities... adjusting as the summer and the spread of the pandemic proceeds.
Surveys indicate that some 65% of Greek hotels could go bankrupt if they fail to break even this summer.