June 15, 2020 / 7:43 AM / 25 days ago

Greece welcomes foreign visitors, restarts summer tourism

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece reopened its main airports to more international flights on Monday, hoping to kick-start its vital tourism sector after three months in lockdown.

Passengers of a flight from Amsterdam wearing protective face masks arrive at the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, following the easing of measures against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece, June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Tourism employs about 700,000 people and accounts for some 20% of Greece’s economic output, so how the sector fares is significant for the country’s recovery. Greece emerged from a decade-long debt crisis two years ago.

“Well it’s great, it’s like freedom,” U.S. tourist Chris Saye said, speaking through a mask at Athens’ main airport after arriving from Paris with his wife.

Passengers arriving from airports deemed high-risk by the European Union’s aviation safety agency, including airports in the Paris region, are tested for the coronavirus on arrival and quarantined up to 14 days, depending on the result.

Arrivals from other airports are randomly tested. People are still barred from flying in from Britain and Turkey.

Seasonal hotels and museums also opened on Monday.  

Restrictions on movement imposed in March helped Greece contain the spread of COVID-19 infections to just above 3,000 cases, a relatively low number compared with other EU countries. But it brought the economy to a standstill.

The conservative government now faces the tough task of opening the country to foreign visitors while allaying public concerns about a new virus outbreak.

From the picturesque island of Santorini, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters on Saturday that his priority is to make Greece the safest destination in Europe.

“You can come to Greece, you will have a fantastic experience, you can sit on a veranda with this wonderful view, have your nice Assyrtiko wine, enjoy the beach,” Mitsotakis said, with a stunning sunset in the background.

“But we don’t want you crowded in a beach bar... There are a few things that we won’t allow this summer.”

About 33 million tourists visited the Mediterranean nation last year, generating revenues of 19 billion euros ($21.42 billion).

($1 = 0.8870 euros)

Reporting by Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Giles Elgood and Andrew Heavens

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