Direct flights to Greek tourist destinations to begin July 1

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's long-awaited tourist season will begin on June 15 with the opening of seasonal hotels, while international flights will begin flying directly to tourist destinations gradually as of July 1, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday.

Speaking Wednesday in a televised address to the nation, Mitsotakis said visitors would be subject to sample coronavirus testing and “our general health protocols will be adhered to, without them, however, overshadowing our bright sun or the natural beauties of Greece.”

Mitsotakis noted 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.”

Mitsotakis’ government imposed a lockdown very early in Greece’s outbreak, which has been credited with keeping the number of deaths and critically ill people at very low levels. On Wednesday, health authorities announced one new death and 10 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of dead to 166 and the total confirmed cases to 2,850 in the country of nearly 11 million people.

But the lockdown has dealt a severe blow to Greece’s economy, which has barely emerged from a brutal decade-long financial crisis that saw a quarter of gross domestic product wiped out. Tourism is a vital part of the economy, contributing more than 10% of GDP, and authorities have been anxious to ensure the entire summer season isn’t lost.

More than 34 million visitors traveled to Greece last year, spending 18.2 billion euros, according to central data.

“Let us face reality with courage: April and May was the nadir of tourism,” Mitsotakis said. “So whatever we achieve this year will be a profit.”

Mitsotakis announced a reduction in consumer taxes on transport from 24% to 13% for five months, which will lead to cheaper boat, plane and bus tickets during the tourist season, as well as a cut on tax on coffee, soft drinks and open-air movie theater tickets.

The government's priority, he stressed, was on maintaining jobs “and helping the sector's professionals prepare for their big comeback in 2021.”

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Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report.

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