Greece officially opened its doors to visitors on Saturday May 15, 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 said, as she strolled near 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 islands, will also be allowed for those with negative tests or vaccinations.
“Greece offers what people need,” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis tweeted. “Moments of calm and recklessness on the path to normalcy.”
Tourists in Athens were thrilled.
“I’m finally here,” said Rebecca, a tourist to 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, along with warmer weather allowing for outdoor activities, mean visitors can travel safely.
As the pandemic put an end to international travel in 2020, Greece had its worst tourism year on record, with 7 million visitors compared to a record 33 million in 2019. Tourism revenues fell to 4 billion 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 a burst of water on landing. Four southern Aegean islands, including Mykonos, received 32 international flights on Saturday from countries including Sweden, Germany and Qatar.
Corfu, in the Ionian Sea, has welcomed visitors from Germany and France.
“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 fared better than much of Europe during the first wave of the pandemic, but the rise in infections later in 2020 forced it to impose several lockdowns to protect its healthcare system by difficulty.
A country of 11 million people, it has recorded 373,881 infections and 11,322 deaths.
($ 1 = 0.8237 euros)