A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
"This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism," Mitsotakis said after a video conference with island mayors and regional governors.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilised a surge in cases.
On the island of Naxos, a popular family holiday destination, officials welcomed the initiative. Mayor Dimitris Lianos told The Associated Press that the single dose vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson was also being deployed to speed up the program. "By the end of June, all our year-round residents will be vaccinated and that's very important for us because it creates a sense of safety for the people that live here and for the people who will visit our island," Lianos said.
Robin Rose Varthalitou, and 69-year-old Naxos resident from Wales said she was relieved the vaccination drive was expanding.
"There's been no problem. No worries. It's fine," she said of the immunisation program so far. "I reckon everybody should do it by law... This (pandemic) is a tragedy everywhere, financially and for people. A tragedy."
At the forefront of the tourism restart is a return of large cruise ships in the Mediterranean. Norwegian Cruise Lines is launching two ships on itineraries around the Greek Islands for international tourists at the end of August.
However, these cruises have only been given the go ahead providing all passengers and crew have been fully vaccinated for at least two-weeks before departure.
"Relaunching Norwegian Epic and Getaway will allow us to provide a greater variety of highly sought-after itineraries for those travellers preparing to take their first cruise vacation in over a year," said the Norwegian's CEO Harry Sommer.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece's population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season officially opens Friday.
- Associated Press