With widely spaced sun loungers and regular disinfections, Greece reopened its organised beaches on Saturday as the popular Mediterranean holiday destination eases COVID-19 curbs in preparation for the return of foreign visitors next week.
Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Greece‘s economy and jobs, and – after the worst year on record for the industry last year – the country can ill afford another lost summer.
“We’re pinning our hopes on tourism,” said Nikos Venieris, who manages a sandy beach in the seafront suburb of Alimos, just outside the capital, Athens, where social distancing measures will remain in place.
“We’re one of the places along the Athens riviera … that receives many tourists so the number of visitors from abroad will play a big role in our finances,” he added.
Under current measures, beach managers like Venieris will have to place umbrellas at least four metres (13 feet), carry out regular disinfections and test beach bar employees and other staff for COVID-19.
Greece fared well in keeping the first wave of the pandemic under control last year but a resurgence in cases pushed health services to the limit and prompted authorities to impose a second lockdown in November.
As infections have fallen and vaccinations gathered pace, authorities have steadily eased restrictions, opening bars and restaurants earlier this week.
On Friday, they announced that museums would reopen next week before the lifting of travel restrictions on vaccinated foreign visitors on May 15.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said a combination of widespread testing, immunisation, and the fact that many activities would take place outdoors gave authorities confidence that tourists would be able to visit safely.
For Greek beach lovers, Saturday’s reopening of the country’s largest beaches was a chance to let off steam after months of lockdown.
“We’ve been longing for this for six months now, because we’re winter swimmers and we’ve really missed it,” said Spiros Linardos, a pensioner, reclining on a sun lounger at Alimos.