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Greek islands in turmoil due to their health classification as “high-risk zones”

Small Greek islands are in turmoil due to the health classification as “high-risk” destinations by the Ministry of Health. They see such plans as an effort to undermine their struggle to get out of the economic quagmire after the coronavirus lockdown that has significantly affected the tourism sector.

Ahead of the opening to domestic and international tourism and the risk of “imported” COVID-19 cases, the Health Ministry is reportedly planning to categorize destinations on mainland and islands in three “risk zones” depending on the presence of or access to adequate health facilities or not. The categorization especially affects small and remote islands.

Islands at an 1.5-hour distance to the mainland, for example, will be characterized as “low risk destinations.” Islands with health infrastructures will be considered as of “moderate risk.” And islands without or just basic health facilities will be categorized as “high-risk zones,” daily eleftheros typos reported.

Fore example, at Low Risk are reportedly the mainland, Crete, islands in the Saronic Gulf, some of the Cyclades and Evia.

At Moderate Risk are islands such as Rhodes, Paros, Santorini and the North Aegean islands.

At High-Risk are remote islands with basic or no health facilities.

As expected, the news have angered islanders who are waiting for the tourism season to open again even with delay.

“Is it possible that islands without a single confirmed infection will be considered as high-risk destinations,” mayor of Symi, Lefteris Papakalodoukas told Alpha TV on Thursday.

“Do we advertise this? Who will come for a vacation if you tell him not to go to the islands because they are high-risk?” the mayor stressed. He added that after the announcement of the risk-zones, travel agencies that cooperate with abroad, proceeded to cancel reservations.

“People want advertising to come, not defamation. What they say causes destruction,” Papakalodoukas said and called on the Tourism Ministry to “take it back!.”

“The Ministry of Tourism has never divided the islands into categories, in terms of their risk,” said Deputy Tourism Minister, Manos Konsolas, in a statement on Wednesday, stressing that such a move would not be simply wrong, but illogical as it would  send the wrong message and create impressions.

Konsolas tried to downgrade the issue.

However, the risk levels were presented on May 20 as part of a plan to restart the Greek economy and they are part of the planning of the  Ministry of Health.

For its part, the Ministry of Health responds that the plan will be specialized and will be officially presented in the coming days, reports daily efsyn on Thursday.

Even larger islands that have developed health infrastructure and function as nodes for the smaller ones, such as Rhodes, Kalymnos, Kos, Naxos, Paros, Syros and Santorini, are classified as “moderate risk,” notes the daily.

The governor of the South Aegean, George Hatzimarkos (New Democracy), as well as the hoteliers’ associations of Rhodes and Santorini, reportedly expressed strong dissatisfaction with the categorization.

The mayor of Tilos, Maria Kamma, has expressed a similar point of view as her colleague on Symi.

“On one hand, we are told to work, on the other hand, we are not safe. This is unacceptable. If we are not considered safe, let’s have us subsidized for the financial losses we will have. We are in danger that young people will leave the island. Our anxiety is not just about the coronavirus. We experience insecurity every day,” Kamma told efsyn.

Small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the vast majority of tourism businesses on the islands, do not have access to the announced financial instruments and many entrepreneurs are thinking of not opening for this season. It is still unclear, whether charter flights will operate again and from which countries, while cruising is  essentially dead.

With tourism accounting for 60% to 95% of GDP in the South Aegean islands, indirectly affecting the entire economic chain, a difficult winter is predicted, with high unemployment rates and workers who may be reimbursed from October 2019 or get paid again in May 2021, ie 18 months later, notes the daily.

Daily ethnos reported that health authorities are preparing facilities to carry out laboratory tests for COVID-19 on 20 islands. Tourists with suspected symptoms as well as the local population could be checked at these facilities.

However, the Ministry of Health has not decided yet on which islands these facilities will open and is expected to complete procedures by end of June to beginning of July. The islands of Paros and Mykonos are considered are certain, the newspaper notes, among others.

More on tourism in Greece amid the pandemic here.

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