Kastellorizo is the first of several Greek islands with no more than 1,000 residents that have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus so far, garnering “Covid-free” references in global tourist media, officials told state-run news agency amna-mpa.
Lesser-known, some more remote than others yet with a loyal fan base in the summers, these islands look to the reopening of the tourism season with more optimism in 2021, following a devastating 2020 of cancellations due to the pandemic.
Small islands completing vaccinations
Besides Kastellorizo, vaccination is now complete at Fourni, Kalamos, Kastos, Meganissi, Inousses, Psara and Thimena. Islands that have already received the first of two vaccine rounds include Agathonissi, Arki, Erikoussa, Gavdos, Halki, Lipsi, Nissiros, Othoni, Mathraki and Tilos.
Next in line to be vaccinated are Agios Efstratios, Ammouliani, Anafi, Ano Koufonissi, Antikithira, Antipaxi, Dokos, Donoussa, Elafonissos, Farmakonissi, Folegandros, Giali, Iraklia, Kalolimnos, Kimolos, Marathi, Palio Trikeri, Peristera, Psara, Pserimos, Saria, Schinoussa, Sikinos, Telendos, Thimena, Thirassia and Trizonia.
An early start
Kastellorizo was first vaccinated on January 27-30, its deputy mayor Stratos Amygdalos told ANA-MPA. The residents stopped being fearful and look forward to the tourist season, as 90 pct of them are involved in the sector. He said there is some show of demand for the island but the reservation numbers have not reflected this yet.
Last year, the island saw reservations cancelled due to the restriction measures, especially of the Kastellorizo communities in Australia. The island also sees a lot of visitors from Turkey, he said, especially out of high season, as in April and November.
Tourists raise the number of people on the island to double the 500 residents. In high season, Kastellorizo may get as many as 1,000 people, although the island can only accomodate 500 tourists. Nearly eight ferries per week stop at the island, besides the private yachts, Amygdalos said.
Keeping smaller islands infection-free
Mayor Pavlos Daglas said Meganissi is growing in interest as a safe destination, especially among Germans, with Elafonissi mayor Efi Liarou concurring as to the small size, especially the latter infection-free destination. Also infection-free Lipsi, said mayor Fotis Magos, has been working on improving accessibility on the island, “collectively aware that we must not relax our vigilance” over infections.
Larger and better-known Greek islands Ios, Andros, Sifnos and Skopelos, all in the Aegean Sea, are either completing vaccinations or have done so already and look forward to reservations this summer. Ios had very few infections, and vaccinations of residents over 60 years old has begun, mayor Gkikas Gkikas.
Skopelos also remains low in infections due to the awareness campaign by local professionals, mayor Stamatis Perissis said.
Nearer to Attica, Andros has a special area in its Health Center and additional medical equipment, mayor Dimitris Lotsaris told ANA-MPA, while Sifnos mayor Maria Nadali said the island has benefitted from donations in a portable ventilator and oxygen condenser.
The mayor of Skopelos, Stamatis Perissis, said the first round of vaccinations is complete, while he expects that most of the islanders will have completed both rounds of vaccinations by the start of the tourist season.
In the Peloponnese, especially its SE section of Laconia, hotels set aside for possible Covid-19 infections as stipulated by law were not needed, Laconia Hoteliers Association Dimitris Pollalis told ANA-MPA. This year, he said, “we will not have to become nurses in our hotels”, as vaccinations are proceeding briskly and visitors observe health measures. He also expressed optimism for July and August, and did not rule out the extension of the tourist season later in the area.
Safety key to visitors
Notis Martakis, head of MTC Group which specializes in communication and whose portfolio contains many island towns, said that sector officials are becoming more aware of how important progress in vaccinations is and how effective it is as an incentive to visitors. As an example, he said that popular islands like Paros that push for faster rates of vaccinations or other islands without any infections that also keep a brisk vaccination program will lead in tourism demand, and that is what his group advises clients.
Highlighting the safety of a destination in terms of the infection is more important that natural beauty in a location, and his group’s campaign is to make professionals and residents agree to follow the measures, he said.
He agreed with Greek government policy in terms of bilateral state agreements in tourism but noted it is also necessary to consider disincentives and address them, such as the cost of tests for those who cannot or lack the time required to become vaccinated before travelling..