Direct flights to Greek tourist destinations to begin July 1

A worker places chairs at a fish restaurant ahead of its reopening in Piraeus, near Athens, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.Next Monday, bars, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve clients on the premises, with patrons limited to 6 per table, except for families with children. Greece is gradually lifting quarantine restrictions after the lockdown against the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s long-awaited tourist season will begin on June 15 with the opening of seasonal hotels and the arrival of the first foreign visitors, while international flights will begin heading directly for holiday destinations gradually as of July 1, the government said Wednesday.

Speaking in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said visitors would be subject to sample coronavirus testing and “our general health protocols will be adhered to, without them, however, overshadowing our bright sun or the natural beauties of Greece.”

Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said a list of countries from which visitors will be able to arrive in Greece will be announced before the end of May. The selection will be based on “epidemiological criteria” as determined by Greece’s committee of experts dealing with the pandemic.

Balkan and Baltic countries, Germany and regional countries such as Israel and Cyprus are expected to be in the first wave of those whose citizens will be allowed to enter Greece, he said.

Visitors from those countries will be able to fly into Greece initially only through Athens’ international airport as of June 15, Theoharis said. Direct international flights to the rest of the country’s airports will resume July 1.

Some countries, however, might be excluded, depending on the situation with their coronavirus outbreaks, the minister said. Those countries would be closely watched, with a view to re-establishing direct flights when the situation allows.

Those arriving will not be subject to mandatory quarantine or blanket testing of all arrivals, but Greek authorities will have the right to carry out sample testing, he said.

Theoharis outlined an operational plan being set in place to tackle any potential outbreaks at tourist destinations, including a designated doctor for each hotel, special quarantine areas and testing facilities on islands.

Mitsotakis noted that Greece has “managed to restrict the spread of the virus. … We made our country an example to follow in the handling of the health crisis.”

The government imposed a lockdown very early in Greece’s outbreak, and this has been credited with keeping the number of deaths and critically ill people low. On Wednesday, health authorities announced one new death and 10 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of dead to 166 and the total confirmed cases to 2,850 in the country of nearly 11 million people.

But the lockdown has dealt a severe blow to Greece’s economy, which has barely emerged from a brutal decade-long financial crisis that saw a quarter of gross domestic product wiped out. Tourism is a vital part of the economy, contributing around 20% of GDP, and authorities have been anxious to ensure the entire summer season isn’t lost.

About 33 million visitors traveled to Greece last year, spending 19 billion euros, according to Theoharis.

“Let us face reality with courage: April and May was the nadir of tourism,” Mitsotakis said. “So whatever we achieve this year will be a profit.”

Mitsotakis announced a reduction in consumer taxes on transport from 24% to 13% for five months, which will lead to cheaper boat, plane and bus tickets during the tourist season, as well as a cut on tax on coffee, soft drinks and open-air movie theater tickets.

The government’s priority, he stressed, was on maintaining jobs “and helping the sector’s professionals prepare for their big comeback in 2021.”

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Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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