Greece officially opened its doors to visitors on Saturday, kicking off a summer season that it hopes will resuscitate its vital tourism industry battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
After months of lockdown restrictions, Greece also opened its museums this week, including the Acropolis Museum, which houses renowned sculptures from ancient Greece.
“I feel really alive and well because it’s been such a tough and long year because of COVID,” said Victoria Sanchez, a 22-year-old student vacationing in the Czech Republic.
“I feel alive again,” she says as she walks by the Roman Agora in downtown Athens.
From Saturday, foreign tourists will be allowed into Greece if they have been vaccinated or can show negative COVID-19 test results. Travel between regions, including to the islands, will also be allowed for those with negative tests or vaccinations.
“Greece offers what people need,” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis tweeted. “Quiet and carefree moments on the way to normalcy. “
Tourists in Athens were thrilled.
“I’m finally here,” said Rebecca, a tourist from Athens from Florida, who declined to give her last name. “I’ve been waiting for two years – two years with COVID. “
Greece has rolled out vaccines to its islands and hopes to vaccinate most of them by the end of June. The government says vaccines and rapid tests, as well as warmer weather allowing for outdoor activities, allow visitors to travel safely.
As the pandemic put an end to international travel in 2020, Greece suffered its worst year for tourism on record, with 7 million visitors compared to a record 33 million in 2019. Tourism revenues fell to 4 billion d euros (4.9 billion dollars) against 18 billion euros. .
This year, he’s aiming for 40% of 2019 levels.
On the island of Mykonos, a flight received an aquatic salute on landing. Four islands in the southern Aegean Sea, including Mykonos, received 32 international flights on Saturday from countries including Sweden, Germany and Qatar.
Corfu, in the Ionian Sea, welcomed German and French visitors.
“We are so happy. I am happy to be here, ”said Pierre-Olivier Garcia, shortly after arriving on the island.
The Greeks also welcomed the lifting of the lockdown measures, with dozens of people leaving on Saturday for islands or vacation homes on the mainland.
“The first weekend of freedom,” proclaimed Alpha TV on a broadcast from the bustling port of Piraeus.
Greece held up better than most European countries during the first wave of the pandemic, but the rise in infections later in 2020 forced it to impose several lockdowns to protect its ailing healthcare system.
A country of 11 million people, it has recorded 373,881 infections and 11,322 deaths.
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