Greece has started deploying police units to vacation island hot spots as the country’s tourist season shifts into high gear amid a worrying spread of coronavirus variants.
Authorities decided to step up the police presence on party islands such as Mykonos and Ios as concerns mounted over local entrepreneurs failing to comply with health measures aimed at curbing the pandemic. “The Delta variant means that every country is facing the fourth wave now and not as expected in November,” Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told The Guardian. “While hotels and family-type establishments diligently implement protocols, there is more congestion than we would like to see in bars, especially among the younger ones… so we try to ensure a certain balance. “
Some 186 law enforcement agencies were dispatched to Mykonos alone, compared to 56 stationed there around the same time last year.
On Thursday, 30 other police officers, supported by security guards and undercover agents, were dispatched to Ios, the 18 km long Cycladic island popular with young tourists drawn to its bars, nightclubs and rock clubs.
Greek Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias said Mykonos and Ios were “one step away” from authorities imposing further restrictions, and that the situation on the islands of Zakynthos, Tinos, Lefkada, Santorini, Paros and Rhodes was also of concern.
On Thursday, the southern Aegean Greek islands were marked in dark red on the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid map, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged . The group of 13 islands includes Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes.
Infection rates have increased among people aged 20 to 30 – with most tests asymptomatic in a country that has so far recorded more than 485,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 13,000 deaths from Covid-19 . Unlike the rest of Europe, Greece’s vacation industry has performed relatively well in the 10 weeks since the popular destination opened, with hoteliers reporting a noticeable increase in bookings from European and American travelers.
Arrivals have jumped 130% since last year, when the tourism-dependent country saw a 75% drop in visitor numbers – although they are still pale next to 2019, when Greece attracted a number record 33.1 million people. Tourism revenues last month increased “over 400% from June last year,” Theoharis said.
“We have made up for some lost ground… around 140,000 visitors from the UK have arrived by air since July 19. They are arriving in large numbers although there is still some way to go. Great Britain is an important market.
But with the highly transmissible Delta variant also on the rise, industry officials are talking about “managing the unmanageable” as new challenges emerge on a daily basis.
Earlier this month, authorities were forced to impose a week-long curfew and a music ban on Mykonos after contagion rates soared on the ‘anything goes’ island . Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochidois warned on Wednesday that it was only a matter of time before a similar lockdown was applied to Ios. “There is now a visible danger that the island will be closed,” he said, after landing in Ios earlier today. “Fines have already been imposed on companies that do not respect the law and … very active and combative police officers are dispatched to apply the law and enforce the measures. “
Theoharis, the Minister of Tourism, said that the islands Greece had touted as ‘Covid-free’, following a campaign to vaccinate entire populations before the country officially accepted tourists, had a better season. . “Small islands are fuller than large islands,” he said.
This week, the Greek health authorities announced that five million people had been vaccinated, which is still far from achieving collective immunity, according to epidemiologists, but an important step nonetheless. “We are seeing a fourth wave but no wave at all in terms of hospitalizations and stress on the health care system,” Theoharis said. “There is a change in the pattern of the disease and it requires a change in mindset about how we respond to it. “
Tourism represents nearly 25% of Greek GDP with one in five jobs dependent on this sector. In June, the Bank of Greece predicted that it would take two to three years for travel and spending to return to pre-pandemic levels, saying this year’s income is unlikely to exceed 40% of that of 2019, when industry revenues hit an all-time high. of 18 billion euros.
Reuters contributed to this report