Greece reopens island ferries, cafes in tourism restart

The government on May 20, 2020, said the tourism period would begin on June 15 with the first resumption of international flights through Athens airport. Direct flights to the Greek islands will begin July 1. (AFP Photo)

restarted regular ferry services to its islands Monday and and were also back open for business as the country accelerated efforts to salvage its season.

Travel to the islands had been generally off-limits since a lockdown was imposed in late March to halt the spread of the coronvirus, with only goods suppliers and permanent residents allowed access.

But the country's low infection rate in the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the government to start the holiday season three weeks earlier than the expected June 15 date, as other Mediterranean countries — including Italy, Spain and Turkey — are grappling with deadlier virus outbreaks.

Greece has had nearly 2,900 infections and 171 deaths from the virus. Italy has seen nearly 33,000 patients die, Spain has had nearly 29,000 dead and Turkey has had 4,340 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Social distancing regulations and passenger limits have been imposed on ferries and at restaurants to ward off new infections.

State-run health services to combat the coronavirus are being expanded to the islands, with intensive care units being placed on five islands: Lesbos, Samos, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Corfu, along with existing ICU facilities on the island of Crete.

Tourism is a vital part of the Greek economy, directly contributing more than 10% of the country's GDP. More than 34 million visitors traveled to Greece last year, spending 18.2 billion euros ($19.5 billion), according to government data.

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