Greece has dispatched more than 200 police officers to its top tourist islands due to fears of a surge in Covid variants just days after relaxing measures following complaints from local business.
Extra forces have been sent to Mykonos and Ios, two of Greece’s most popular island holiday destinations, which are now threatened with a local lockdown following a surge in infections, notably among the young.
Infection rates have shot up among people aged between 20 and 30.
Several other islands are facing similar lockdowns if conditions worsen.
The island’s shop owners had criticised the government on its decision to ban unvaccinated people from sitting inside cafes, bars and restaurants earlier this month, warning of “unprecedented reactions” on their side.
On July 17, extra restrictions were nevertheless imposed on Mykonos due to a rise of 248 per cent in confirmed cases. Music was banned in all cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants and a nightly curfew from 1am to 6am came into effect.
Following a string of negative publicity and a wave of cancelled bookings in the island, the measures were lifted on July 26.
Now, police have stepped up their presence in both islands to increase checks in the popular night spots. Some 186 policemen from Greece were dispatched from Athens to Mykonos following the lifting of the measures, up from the 56 stationed there this time last year.
Meanwhile, another 30 were sent to the party island of Ios on Thursday, along with security officials and undercover agents.
According to reports in Greek media, the surges also appear to be associated with parties taking place in the rental villas of Ios and Mykonos.
On Monday, civil protection minister Michalis Chrysochoidis visited Mykonos and told locals that the government’s goal was for their island to be known for its safety. Speaking to Greek media on Wednesday, he threatened a local lockdown in Ios and blamed the owners of bars and clubs in the island for not adhering to the measures currently in effect.
“There is now a visible danger that the island will be shut down,” he said. “Fines have already been imposed on enterprises which don’t uphold the law and… police who are very active and combative are being dispatched to apply the law and ensure enforcement of measures.”
On Thursday, deputy minister Nikos Chardalias claimed that the problem with Ios and Mykonos was “impunity” and warned that another six islands might be facing similar restrictions: Zakynthos, Tinos, Lefkada, Santorini, Paros and Rhodes.
Greece’s south Aegean islands were marked dark red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid map on Thursday, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged.
However, islands that Greece promoted as “Covid-free” after a campaign to vaccinate entire populations before reopening are faring better, according to officials, particularly the larger islands.
Greece has been trying to make up for lost ground economically after a long lockdown in the hospitality sector that lasted from November to May.
Unlike the rest of Europe, the country’s holiday industry has seen a major influx of visitors in the 10 weeks since the popular destination opened, both from European and American travellers. Arrivals have rocketed by 130 per cent since last year when there was a 75 per cent drop in visitors and tourism revenues rose by 400 per cent last month compared to last June.
Around 140,000 visitors from the UK, a key market, have flown in since July 19.
Despite the influx, it is estimated that profits from tourism this summer will be well below those in 2019 when they reached an all-time high of €18bn. They were already down 40 per cent last year.