Greece will allow international flights to return to its tourist destinations from July 1, the country’s prime minister said today in a boost to British families hoping for a summer holiday despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mediterranean nation is planning to reboot its tourist industry from June 15 when hotels will start to re-open, before flights start landing again two weeks later.
Visitors will be subject to sample virus testing and ‘general health protocols’ but PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said these would not ‘overshadow our bright sun or the natural beauties of Greece’.
Mitsotakis said Greece has ‘managed to restrict the spread of the virus… We made our country an example to follow in the handling of the health crisis.’
Greece’s early lockdown has limited the outbreak to 2,850 cases and 166 deaths, but dealt a severe blow to an economy which is 18 per cent tourism.
The Greek PM also announced a series of tax cuts on coffee, soft drinks, movie tickets and transport in order to kick-start the tourist season.
A drone captures people flooding onto a beach in Potamos, Epanomi, Greece, this weekend as public spaces begin to open across the country. The scenes comes as Downing Street played down the idea of opening ‘air bridges’ to some foreign resorts
Here are how some of UK tourists’ favourite holiday and travel destinations compare in terms of coronavirus cases
In Britain, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested two-way ‘air bridges linking Britain with nations who have low or falling rates of coronavirus cases, boosting hopes stressed Britons will be able to get away on holiday this year.
Popular tourist destinations like Spain and Italy have said that they would be willing to allow UK visitors in to help their ravaged tourism industries.
Howver, they are insisting that any deal must be ‘reciprocal’, allowing their own nationals into Britain without spending two weeks in isolation.
But with ministers expected to unveil plans tomorrow for a tough new quarantine regime requiring travellers to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK, holidaymakers were warned not to make holiday plans yet in anticipation of the Med being opened up.
Ministers are also facing an increasing rebellion from the Tory backbenches over the quarantine plan at a time when MPs want the economy to be restarted.
Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith told the Telegraph: ‘The Government needs to rethink this quickly and not go into quarantine.
‘If they got their testing level up, then anyone coming in would be tested and put on the tracking app.’
Luigi Di Maio, the Italian foreign minister, said his badly-hit country was ‘ready to receive tourists from Europe with the necessary security’, citing a significant drop in coronavirus cases.
‘From mid-June to September it will be possible to travel in Italy without any problems,’ he said, adding that ‘clear health protocols are in place in the accommodation facilities’.
Pressure for October Bank Holiday
Tourism bosses are pleading with ministers to announce an October Bank Holiday to help rescue the industry from a £37billion black hole.
The extra national holiday would coincide with the autumn half term and encourage trips to the countryside and coast.
Visit Britain claims total losses from domestic tourism are likely to be around £22billion this year.
And the lack of foreign visitors will cut income by another £15billion – and even more if the Government imposes a 14-day quarantine on them.
Acting chief executive Patricia Yates told the Commons culture select committee: ‘Every time we do the [financial] modelling the figures get worse.’
She said the normal summer season should be extended through to October ‘because the industry lost the benefit of the two May Bank Holidays’.
It comes as the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Bernard Donoghue, told MPs that the proposed 14-day quarantine for arriving foreign holidaymakers would be disastrous for sites such as the Royal Albert Hall and other ‘crown jewels’ of the industry.
But he added: ‘We will (open the borders) and we expect reciprocity,’
Downing Street has poured rather tepid water on the idea, with the Prime Minister’s Official spokesman saying: ‘It’s an option under consideration but not agreed Government policy.’
And a Whitehall source added: ‘The quarantine rules will be reviewed every three weeks but I think people would be unwise to book a foreign holiday in the expectation that an ‘air bridge’ will open up in time for the summer holidays.
‘It’s the sort of idea you might look at as you exit a quarantine system. But we are just getting started.’
But Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst told MPs today that her department had set up an ‘air bridge task force’ to look at the idea, although talks with foreign nations had not yet taken place.
One maritime organisation suggested a ‘sea bridge’ instead of an air bridge could be used.
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, told the Sun: ‘We have seen speculation of air bridges.
‘We see no reason why this could not be rolled out to ferries.’
Greek PM Mitsotakis announced his country’s plans to reboot tourism in a televised address today.
‘The tourism period begins June 15, when seasonal hotels can reopen, and direct international flights to our tourist destinations will gradually begin July 1,’ Mitsotakis said.
‘Our general health protocols will be adhered to, without them, however, overshadowing our bright sun or the natural beauties of Greece.’
Tourism accounts for around 18 per cent of Greece’s GDP, according to the country’s foreign ministry.
The lockdown has ravaged an industry which employs around a fifth of the Greek workforce and authorities are keen to encourage visitors again.
Greece’s economy has only recently emerged from a brutal decade-long financial crisis that saw a quarter of gross domestic product wiped out.
Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said today she hoped her nation’s two-week quarantine would be relaxed from next month in favour of less restrictive measures in time to welcome tourists.
Ms Gonzalez said: ‘Quarantine is necessary at the moment to prevent importation of Covid cases but this is a temporary measure.
‘The moment we feel that the virus is under control, we will replace quarantine with other measures at the border.’
But she warned that while holidaymakers will be welcomed back to Spain ‘as soon as possible’, but only when safe to do so.
Spain, like the UK, was among the European countries worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and introduced lockdown measures on March 14, more than a week ahead of the UK.
It has now begun lifting those restrictions in various regions, with plans to end lockdown next month.
Ms Gonzalez Laya said cities with high concentrations of Covid-19 infection – such as Madrid and Barcelona – remain under stricter rules than more rural areas, but that the country will reopen to visitors at the earliest possible opportunity.
However, she was unable to say whether Spain could welcome UK tourists by the summer.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are hoping to get tourists back as soon as possible but we are also conscious that, when we welcome them, we want to provide the safest destination in Europe.
‘We want to make sure when they come they can continue to experience the amazing stay in Spain, whether they love sports or culture or cuisine or simply like our weather.
‘But we want to make sure that at this moment, when every country is suffering from this pandemic, we can provide them with a safe and healthy experience – that’s top of our priorities right now.’
Foreign travel has been severely affected by international restrictions, with airline companies grounding planes and making drastic cuts to their routes.
Ryanair, one of the main carriers to Spain from the UK, last week said it planned to restore 40 per cent of its whole flight programme from July, although Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned that foreign holidays for UK residents are unlikely this summer.
Blanket quarantine measures now appear likely to be introduced towards the end of the month, despite warnings they will wreck the holiday plans of Britons and damage the UK tourism industry.
Visit Britain boss Patricia Yates yesterday predicted the economy would lose £15billion from inbound tourism this year.
Mr Shapps raised hopes that some foreign holidays could be salvaged on Monday when he told MPs he was investigating the possibility of allowing quarantine-free ‘air bridges’ to countries with low levels of infection.
Ministers are still finalising the details of the quarantine regime, but it is expected to include fines of at least £1,000 for those breaching the 14 days of self-isolation.
A minister involved in the talks said all arrivals would be stopped by Border Force agents and told to download the Government’s new coronavirus tracking app.
They will be asked to provide their address or details of where they are staying, and police or local authority officials will carry out spot checks to ensure the quarantine is not being breached.
Sources said there would be ‘very few’ exemptions.
Spanish beaches could limit tourists to four hours a day this Summer
In a bid to prevent overcrowding on Costa Del Sol beaches, regional Spanish governments are being urged to enforce a time limit on how long tourists can stay in one sitting.
The suggestions include four hour time limits for beach-goers, either in the morning or in the afternoon, and to encourage sunbathers to shower before their leave their homes or hotels for the beach, and once again when they arrive.
Parents have also been warned not to let their young children leave buckets, spades and other toys unattended on the beach, and free for anyone else to pick up.
The recommendations were published yesterday by the regional Junta de Andalucia government in a state bulletin.
‘I think we’ll have to get used to going to beaches in a different way to that we’ve been enjoying up to now,’ its vice-president Juan Marin admitted on Spanish TV after the recommendations had been made public.
It is expected that many of the Costa del Sol’s beaches will be re-opened fully next Monday, although the region was a week late entering phase one of a four-stage coronavirus recovery programme, when compared with other regions.
Individual town halls will be left to the task of ensuring that social distancing rules are observed by beach-goers, with a variety of different methods set to be used.
Fuengirola, a popular holiday resort, has said that it is the first to choose artificial intelligence to keep crowds down by installing sensors on lampposts that will monitor how many people are on the beach and inform tourists using a smartphone app which areas are busiest.
Other beaches have proposed the use of ‘beach squares’, in which beach-goers would each have their own roped off zone to keep people at a safe distance from one-another.
Spain has seen over 232,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with more than 27,000 related deaths.
What is an air bridge?
An ‘air bridge’ is typically used by the military to reach and supply territory across enemy lines.
One of the largest in history was used for the Berlin airlift after the Second World War.
That kept the Western-held area supplied between June 1948 and May 1949 when it was cut off by Soviet forces.
Another famous air bridge was ‘The Hump’, which was the route over the Himalayas from India to resupply Chinese forces working with the Allies.
Critics have questioned why the Government is tightening the rules at a time when some EU countries are easing travel restrictions and when many airlines have resumed UK flights.
Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis had called on the Government to agree a no-quarantine pact with his country.
He told the BBC: ‘We feel that this is a time for us to start lifting restrictions and we urge other countries, the UK included, that as soon as we do that we would welcome reciprocity.’
Ministers consider quarantine to be a vital part of efforts to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.
But airline bosses fear it will devastate the crippled travel industry. British Airways wanted to restore large-scale operations in July, but this now looks unlikely.
Virgin Atlantic have also indicated that flights will be pushed back to August ‘at the earliest’.
There are also concerns for the 20,000 British nationals still stranded abroad.
It is likely many will have to go into quarantine after returning as the rule could come into force as early as May 28.
Latest coronavirus video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/coronavirus
UK tourism firms facing £37billion coronavirus hit
UK tourism businesses could lose up to £15billion this year because of the coronavirus shutdown, an industry boss told MPs today.
Patricia Yates, acting chief executive at Visit Britain, said huge sums were likely to be lost both from international and domestic holidaymakers.
She told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee: ‘Every time we do the modelling the figures get worse. So for inbound, I mean we were looking at the beginning of this year at about £26.6 billion coming from inbound tourism, we reckon a £15 billion drop on that.
‘And for domestic, an industry that’s normally worth about £80 billion, a £22 billion drop on that.
‘And that’s actually before we’ve factored in the quarantine because we don’t clearly quite know what the measures are going to look like.’
She said while it would be the hope that domestic tourism this summer could pick up the slack and help alleviate some of the losses from the international sector, a ‘lack of confidence’ among people around travelling is a concern.
She said: ‘You’ve got a collapse of the supply industry as well as collapse of demand and really to get British tourism up and running this summer, and the summer is hugely important, you’re going to need that domestic audience. I think the worrying thing we see is the lack of confidence in the British public about travelling.’
She added: ‘So there’s a real job to be done there, given that it has to be the year of domestic tourism, there’s a real job to be done there in convincing people that it’s socially responsible to travel and enjoy a holiday. And that it’s safe to do so.’