Greece has lifted quarantine restrictions for travelers from the United States and a number of other countries as it prepares to reopen tourism services next month. But with the COVID pandemic still raging across the country and cases once again rising in parts of the United States, critics worry the Greek government may be acting too quickly.
Greece’s new measures were effective immediately after they were announced Monday. It is the first time U.S., British and EU travelers are allowed to visit this sun-kissed nation and its white-washed islands without quarantine requirements since March 2020 when the global pandemic brought international travel to a grinding halt.
Travelers from Israel, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, as well as all European Union member states nationals will be allowed to vacation here, bypassing strict seven-day quarantine rules on the condition that they have either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative 72 hours before their arrival here.
The move makes Greece one of the first major European destinations to reopen to tourists ahead of the summer season -- a crucial head start the country wants in its bid to secure a sizeable slice of the travel market, to boost its battered tourism industry.
But with intensive care facilities still close to capacity, just over 10 percent of the country’s 11 million people inoculated, and the pandemic still raging here, pundits and political opponents are already accusing the government of ignoring warnings by the nation’s health commission to proceed with caution.
Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni denies accusations that officials are acting recklessly.
Any such suggestion she said is insulting. But speaking to reporters at a daily government press briefing, Peloni said it was the administration that was responsible for instituting the COVID rules, not the health commission overseeing the pandemic in the country. She said Greece’s decision to allow U.S. travelers and others to visit the country from this week would be closely monitored.
Peloni described the exercise as a trial run and said qualifying visitors will be able to check into hotels to enjoy Greece’s sun, sea, and fun but they will also be subject to the same restrictions and lockdowns as locals, meaning restaurants and bars will remain off limits, except for takeaways.
Nearly 200 Dutch tourists are already here as part of an experiment.
They are part of an ambitious exercise in which they traded lockdown in their country, in exchange for eight days of voluntary confinement at a hotel resort on the island of Rhodes.
The setup allows participants to access the pool, restaurants, and other facilities at the resort only, but many, like this young man, are ecstatic.
He said he does not have a pool at home and cannot go to his local pub for a beer, so this deal is great.
But for a country growing increasingly frustrated from months of on-again, off-again lockdowns and restrictions, many Greeks are watching such experiments and defying local lockdowns, taking to the streets and staging so-called “corona-parties.”
Many of those who are staying away from the block parties and observing restrictions say they find it unfair the government is allowing foreigners to come and visit, while keeping Greeks confined and unable to travel even beyond the counties they live in, even briefly for the upcoming Greek Orthodox Easter break.
Health officials warn a nationwide easing of restrictions could spark a fresh spike in covid infections.
To appease the growing resentment and lockdown fatigue, Greek government officials are now suggesting they may move to lift local restrictions by mid May - around the same time they hope the first big waves of tourists will start to arrive.