Greece officially welcomes tourists back as it lifts most lockdown measures

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

Greece has officially launched its tourist season and ended most restrictions related to the lockdown.

“We are opening our tourist industry to the world,” tourism minister Haris Theocharis declared Thursday in front of the Temple of Poseidon just outside of Athens. According to the BBC, visitors from Germany have already begun arriving in the country. Travelers from nations on the EU’s “green list” are expected to start making their way to Greece now that tourists are able to visit. In addition, travelers from the United States, Serbia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are welcome, as long as they have been vaccinated or can show negative COVID-19 test results.

Greek officials said they are “putting the lockdown behind us” thanks to the success of its vaccination rollout. Museums have now reopened, and retail shops can now operate without requiring appointments, though limits on capacity will apply to keep up with social distancing protocols.

Authorities say Greece ranks fourth out of all EU countries in the rate of inoculation per 100 residents and added that it expects everyone on its major tourist destination island to be fully vaccinated by the end of June.

While several restrictions remain in place, the government has relaxed many measures implemented during lockdown. For example, residents no longer have to send text messages to a hotline whenever they leave their homes or go shopping, people are allowed to travel between regions, and late evening curfew hours are now limited to between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Greece has been aggressive in planning its reopening. It debuted an expensive promotional campaign to celebrate the reopening of its borders to visitors.  Tourism is tremendously important to the nation’s economy, with as much as a fifth of its workforce employed in the tourist industry.

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Visitors to Greece must arrive at one of the following airports: Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini or Corfu. Additionally, Greece will allow travelers to enter through two land borders.

Travelers entering from the above countries will not have to quarantine provided they have proof they are fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result carried out 72 hours prior to arrival. All tourists will have to abide by any of Greece’s remaining lockdown restrictions, such as the late-night curfew.

“The whole country is safe,” tourism minister Haris Theocharis said to parliament back in April in outlining the sun-soaked European nation’s plans to reopen.

Related: 12 mistakes most tourists make in Greece

That plan to reopen to all travelers included a “five lines of defense” strategy. Those lines include:

  • All visitors must be fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test result;
  • A checking system at Greece’s airports and borders, where passengers can be selected randomly to take a rapid test;
  • Any visitor who tests positive for coronavirus will be isolated in a “quarantine hotel”;
  • All tourism industry workers must be vaccinated (they will move up the priority list once the most vulnerable Greek citizens get the vaccine); and
  • Strict adherence to safety protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing.

What does this all mean for U.S. citizens looking to return to Athens, or make their first visit to one of the Greek Isles like Santorini or Mykonos? Despite Greece’s reopening for tourism, the latest travel advisories from the U.S. Embassy in Greece says American visitors should still not visit the country.

Related: Greece is reopening; How I’m planning my dream trip

Greece could be a key element of European airlines’ bounce-back plan. The resumption of tourism is expected to lead to an increase in flights coming into the country. Already, low-cost airline Ryanair has added extra flights from the U.K. to the Greek Isles. British Airways, anticipating the resumption of Greek tourism, is considering re-routing some of the larger planes in its fleet — like Boeing 787s and 777s — that are sitting idle at Heathrow Airport and using them for shorter flights to the Mediterranean. Emirates has resumed its nonstop fifth-freedom route from New York (JFK) to Athens (ATH).

Bringing tourism back is essential to Greece’s economic bottom line. Many cities and towns in the southeastern European nation rely on the money spent by visitors, and the effects of the year-long pandemic have been incredibly harmful to many local businesses.

You can read all of The Points Guy’s coverage of Greece on our hub page here.

Additional reporting by Emily McNutt.

Featured photo by Freeartist/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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