Greece is 'ready to welcome tourists', says prime minister

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chose Santorini to inaugurate the season with great pomp on Saturday (AFP Photo/ARIS MESSINIS) (AFP)
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Fira (Greece) (AFP) - From the emblematic island of Santorini, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday that Greece is "ready to welcome tourists" in complete safety after the coronavirus lockdown, whose impact on tourism will be "significant".

"Greek tourism is back," said Mitsotakis, two days before the reopening of the tourist season.

The return of tourists to Greece from around 30 countries by air, sea and land, begins on Monday.

"Everything is ready in terms of making sure that we ensure the proper social distancing guidelines, said Mitsotakis, adding that safety and health is "our number 1 priority".

"We want visitors to feel safe. I am not interested in making Greece the number one destination in Europe.

"I am interested in making Greece the safest destination in Europe."

Greece has been relatively unscathed by the virus with just 183 deaths.

After stopping at Fira hospital, where he again spoke of the "success" of his government "in overcoming the first wave of the pandemic", the prime minister visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri by greeting "the incredibly diverse cultural heritage" of Greece.

But in a country where tourism is crucial to the economy, accounting for almost 25 percent of GDP, Mitsotakis admitted that the impact of confinement on the tourism sector would be "significant".

Only "a fraction" of the 33 million tourists who visited Greece last year would turn up this summer, he cautioned

"The honest answer is I don't know what the real impact on the GDP will be," Mitsotakis told a press conference.

"We'll try to save whatever we can to make sure our sector stays alive... and can survive what will obviously be a very difficult summer

"A lot will depend on how comfortable people feel."

Only the airports of Athens and Thessaloniki will be reopened to flights from around 30 countries on Monday, while regional airports, including that of Santorini, are due to reopen on July 1.

Before this date, any passenger who tests positive for COVID-19 must submit to a 14-day isolation period in a hotel at the expense of the Greek state.

The government hopes to lift "all restrictions" in July and wants to "extend the tourist season" when the Greek weather permits "living outside" which is less conducive to the transmission of the virus.

Asked about possible new outbreaks of coronavirus in Greece, he said there was no "risk-free approach".

"We are dealing with a dangerous virus," he said. "It’s still here, it hasn’t disappeared.

"We are taking an extremely calculated risk," he added, stressing that a new total containment was not "tenable" or "an option".

"We are doing the best that we possibly can."