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With the first heat wave of the year, thousands of Greeks sought refuge in the Athenian Riviera last weekend, to do what they were not allowed to do since March 23 (date when general confinement was decreed), such as swimming, rest and enjoy the sunshine outside.
The Government, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, – who since May 4 has been gradually reducing confinement in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic – authorized the opening of 515 beaches and thousands of bathers filled the sands. A scenario that was repeated every year and that now has to obey the new rules of distance.
Chairs and walkways are disinfected, no more than 40 people per thousand square meters are allowed, and each umbrella must be four meters away. The awnings, on the other hand, must be placed at less than one meter, according to a manual issued by the Government. The rules also extend to beach clubs, which may have their doors open but without music or alcoholic beverages – anything that can encourage social interaction.
Also included in this manual is the use of drones, which will be able to fly over the beaches in order to detect “congested areas” or “gatherings”, according to Zissimos Zissos, a Chamber official, told the newspaper The Guardian, while using a drone to appeal to bathers who have to “keep their distance” and, in this way, respect public health.
As a novelty, the message left no one indifferent on the beach, according to Zissos. “It shocks people, who look up and then walk away”. On this first sunny weekend, the police and municipal guards also controlled the distance between umbrellas, as well as asking bathers to respect the rules or risk being fined.
It is a journey towards a new, different world, ”said Giorgos Papanicolaou, Mayor of Glyfada, whose municipality manages a long stretch of beach located in the southern part of the urban area of Athens. “But it went better than we expected. Children are a little more difficult to control, but so far there have been no fines or penalties, ”added Papanicolaou.
In southern Europe, after confinement, countries now turn to economic recovery. Saving tourism is crucial. Greece, a country with 11 million people, is one of the most dependent on this sector in Europe – with one fifth of the Greek workforce (more than one million people) dedicated to tourism. With the application of containment measures as early as March, Greece recorded fewer cases of Covid-19 than neighboring countries – more than 2,800 infections with 160 deaths.
After the reopening of Greek beaches, people will be able to attend mass in churches from May 17, while archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, will be reopened to visitors on May 18. This Monday, trips to mainland Greece and Crete were allowed, and from May 25 to the islands.
This year, however, Greece may be forced to rely on domestic tourism, such as Spain or Italy. However, more than ever, it will be foreign tourists – the main pillar of Greek tourism – that the country hopes to attract when, if all goes well, relax border control on 1 July. The vast archipelago of Greek islands, still off limits to visitors, remained without cases of Covid-19.