Greeks return to beaches in heatwave, but keep umbrellas apart

Greeks flocked to the seaside on Saturday when more than 500 beaches reopened as the country sought to walk the fine line between protecting people from COVID-19 and reviving the tourism sector that many depend on for their livelihoods.

For many in Greece, it was their first foray into a big public venue since the country began easing its lockdown earlier this month, and it also coincided with the first heatwave of the year.

Sun-seekers were required to respect distancing rules, which even stipulated how far umbrellas must be kept apart. No more than 40 people were allowed per 1,000 square meters, while umbrella poles had to be four meters part, with canopies no closer than one meter, according to a government-issued manual, complete with diagram.

At Alimos, a popular beach just south of Athens, people queued up from the early morning to nab their spot in the sunshine.

"This is the best thing for us elderly ... to come and relax a bit after being locked in," Yannis Tentomas, who is in his 70s, said as he settled down under an umbrella.

The manager of the beach, Nikos Venieris, said visitors were following the rules so far and he hoped they would continue to do so during the summer. "We're travelling an unknown road, and we don't know where it's going to end up," he said.

At a neighboring beach, a drone buzzed over sun-loungers, with loudspeakers urging people to keep safe distances from each other.

The lifting of the lockdown comes as countries around Europe and the world look to ease restrictions imposed to curb the pandemic in an attempt to resurrect their economies.

An employee disinfects a sunbed during the official reopening of beaches in Athens, Greece, May 16, 2020. /Reuters

An employee disinfects a sunbed during the official reopening of beaches in Athens, Greece, May 16, 2020. /Reuters

Greece has reported a fraction of the COVID-19 cases of neighboring countries – more than 2,800 infections, with 160 deaths. From May 4, it began a phased-in easing of the lockdown that had been in place since mid-March.

The country of 11 million people is one of the most dependent in Europe on tourism, which generates about a fifth of its economic output.

Following the reopening of Greek beaches, people will be permitted to attend church mass from May 17, while archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, will reopen on May 18. From Monday, travel across mainland Greece and to Crete will be allowed, and from May 25 to the islands.

"This is a crucial turning point in our efforts, and we must succeed," said Nikos Hardalias, Greece's civil protection minister.

Tourism officials say they hope to welcome back foreign holidaymakers in July.

"The message is that Greece is a very safe and hospitable country. We invite them and are waiting for them to come, as long as they follow the rules," Alimos Mayor Andreas Kondylis said.

Greece's lockdown, plus the shutdown of much of the world and most air travel, is likely to have a profound effect on a country that is just starting to recover from a decade of financial turmoil and austerity.

Authorities expect anything between a 5-10 percent decline in economic output this year, before recovering in 2021.

(Cover: Workers install wooden corridors on a beach, a day before the official opening of beaches to the public following the easing of measures against the spread of the novel coronavirus, in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2020. /Reuters)

Source(s): Reuters