ATHENS - Greece has opened up 500 of its beaches as the country eases lockdown restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities authorized the move as a heat wave was expected to hit the country this weekend. But sizzling temperatures aside, the measure is seen as a crucial test of readiness for Greece’s biggest challenge: summer tourism.
From early Saturday, sunbathers swarmed beaches across the country, taking cool respite from scorching temperatures and over a month-long period in lockdown.
Yet as they entered ticketed facilities a new reality set in. Sun loungers at many sites were seen hammered down, fastened to the ground to secure social distancing.
Kiosks were not allowed to play music and bars were prohibited from serving alcohol -- all for the sake of keeping crowds sober and orderly.
Scores of municipal workers and police have been deployed to spot offenders, slapping business owners with fines of up to $65,000. Sun-seekers caught violating social distancing rules, or creating crowds, will be subject to fines of about $1,080.
And to be sure of orderly behavior, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said sea sports and other recreational activities on the beaches have been banned.
This marks an important test which Greece has to pass with flying colors, he said. How well or bad it does, he said, would impact efforts by the government to reboot tourism.
Tourism accounts for about 25 percent of the nation's income, and also one in four jobs.
Greece has reported 155 deaths out of some 3000 COVID-19 infections -- one of the lowest rates among European countries. Yet with reopening measures so limiting, some beach bar owners are keeping their operations shut.
"It just doesn’t make financial sense," explained one such owner near the Greek capital of Athens. "It also defeats the carefree, live-and-let-live spirit of such operations."
Limited or not, authorities say this will be a summer to remember.