ATHENS - Authorities on Greece’s most popular tourist island, Mykonos, will deploy more than a dozen drones to spot those who defy safety protocols aimed at preventing the spread and resurgence of COVID-19.
The decision, known as “Operation Mykonos,” comes after a string of local so-called “Corona-parties” organized by entrepreneurs at private villas and estates in recent weeks to bypass safety rules banning the operation of nightclubs.
It also comes as the beleaguered government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis scrambles to revive its battered tourism sector, luring foreign travelers — mainly from the United States, Europe, Israel, and Russia — with the promise of a safe summer holiday stay under the Greek sun.
Foreign travelers are required to abide by local lockdowns, curfews, and safety protocols during their stays.
Under “Operation Mykonos,” authorities will deploy 15 drones to fly over private villas or establishments in Mykonos that in recent weeks were host to parties packed with hundreds of locals and foreigners. Ten-member strong teams of officers will also be formed to raid the establishments upon notice, arresting and fining the offenders, authorities told VOA.
Fines range between $365 to over $6,000.
Officials tell VOA the measures, coupled with heightened police controls, inspections and added surveillance cameras across Mykonos, will serve as a blueprint for other popular hotspots among foreign travelers. These include Rhodes, Santorini and Paros, according to authorities.
“Illegal parties spell a greater risk of seeing the virus spread, infecting more and more people,” warned Nikos Hardalias, the head of Greece’s Civil Protection Agency, on Sunday. “It spells a spike in COVID cases that can lead to fresh restrictions, leading businesses to shut down, causing major damage to tourist areas.”
“It is high time,” he warned, “for everyone to size up to the challenge and take on full responsibility of their actions.”
On Monday, government spokesman Aristotelia Peloni also criticized the mushrooming “corona-parties" gripping the country, saying she wished “Greece’s youth showed similar zeal and enthusiasm in the state’s nationwide vaccination drive.”
“The country’s freedom,” she said, “can only come through comprehensive immunization.”
Effectively in lockdown since last November, Greece started easing some of its sweeping restrictions, including curfews and travel bans, in mid-May when it re-launched international travel.
The latest crackdown, however, underscores the paradox of what critics call a hasty and ill-thought-out strategy.
“You can’t say ‘restaurants and bars can open but no music playing in the background to block crowds from gathering,’” said Heracles Zissimopoulos, a leading entrepreneur on the island of Mykonos. “It’s absurd.”
“The government should seriously rethink its policy, and provide locals and tourists with an outlet, instead. Otherwise, these types of parties will be difficult to stop,” he added.
Greece recorded less than 3,000 cases during the country’s first bout with the pandemic. But as tourists streamed in last summer, infections and deaths sky-rocketed, making Greeks apprehensive to foreign travelers.
But with 20 percent of the nation’s domestic output reliant on tourism, Greeks now know they can ill afford to lose a second summer tourism season in a row.
Under a campaign called “Blue Freedom," the government wants to vaccinate all 700,000 or so adult residents of Greece’s islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas by the end of June, hoping Greece can be included in Britain’s revised green-list of travel nations. All islanders are being offered the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to boost immunization.
As of early June, Mykonos had vaccinated about four in ten of its residents, and Santorini over 50% — among the highest in the country.