Over in Greece there is mounting concern over the rising number of “imported” coronavirus cases ahead of the Mediterranean country opening to holidaymakers tomorrow.
For a nation so reliant on tourism the fact that its archipelago of islands has remained so Covid-free has been crucial to projecting an image of safety and security. But since Greece reopened its main airports in Athens and Thessaloniki on 15 June, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has crept up.
Tellingly, almost a third of the 110 new infections logged by authorities over the last week were travellers from abroad. Six of those reported were on Syros, Ios and Paros – all popular islands. On Monday, three of the 15 new cases registered by health officials had arrived from overseas.
This morning, media on Zakynthos reported that seven people had now contracted the virus – the latest described as a man admitted to the local hospital on Sunday with a high fever after recently returning from Germany.
Most tourists who have thus far been detected with the virus are asymptomatic, adding to the concerns of epidemiologists. “The big problem is that the virus is transmitted via individuals who are asymptomatic or have few symptoms,” said professor Nikolaos Sypsas, a member of the scientific committee that advises the government. “The problem of dispersal via asymptomatic people remains a very big risk.”
The country’s civil protection ministry says health officials with the armed forces will be dispatched to islands to conduct tests on arriving passengers over the next three months. “They will have absolute responsibility,” said the deputy civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias as he toured regional airports in advance of direct flights to destinations being resumed nationwide on Wednesday.
At the weekend Athens’ centre-right government announced that, 48 hours prior to arrival, anyone entering Greece would have to fill out an electronic form, stating personal details and where they had travelled to in recent weeks. With the aid of special software, the input will then be weighed up by health authorities – a form of ‘smart testing’ that is hoped will help identify possible coronavirus carriers.
To date Greece has had 3,390 confirmed coronavirus cases and 191 covid-related fatalities – far lower than most other European countries. Fears of the highly contagious virus being imported played a central role in the government deciding to continue its suspensions of air links with the UK and Sweden on Monday.