Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to tourists from Balkan countries, Greece is now forcing every traveller arriving at the overland border to present a negative corona test.
The measure was adopted by the Greek government after corona infection rates surged dramatically over the last days. According to a statement by the national health authorities today, there were 60 new corona cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 3,732.
Even though that number is still very low compared to other European countries, the authorities are worried about the sudden surge. Before the start of the tourist season, Greece managed to contain the outbreak due to early measures being taken and a strictly enforced lockdown.
The new cases are therefore mostly linked to newly arrived tourists coming into the country, as 40 of those 60 cases already were tourists being tested at one of the Greek entry points.
Most of the imported corona cases are travellers from the Balkan countries, of whom the vast majority enters Greece overland by car to take a holiday in the areas of northern Greece which are historically popular among Balkan travellers such as the Halkidiki peninsula and the island of Thasos.
Especially in countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania there has been a huge increase in corona cases recently. Especially the situation in Serbia has deteriorated so much that the Greek government was forced to ban Serbian tourists from entering Greece.
Although not as severe as Serbia, the corona situation in other Balkan countries isn’t rosy either. To protect the fragile health care system and the lives of locals, the Greek government has therefore decided to only allow people to enter across land borders who have taken a corona test no later than 72 hours before arriving.
At the border, foreign tourists need to present a negative corona test to the border guards and health authorities, as only then will they be allowed to enter Greece. The testing requirement counts for all overland travellers regardless of nationality. If you are let’s say an Austrian tourist travelling to Greece by car, you also need a negative corona test just like Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians.
Currently, only one single border post between Bulgaria and Greece is open for non-essential travel (Kulata – Promachonas). In the last days, there were huge traffic jams reported at the Bulgarian side of the border, with waiting times of five to six hours not uncommon.
Borders with Albania, North Macedonia and Albania remain closed for non-essential traffic.
Flights and ferries
It is still possible to fly into Greece or arrive by ferry from Italy, on the condition of course that you do not come from a country blacklisted by the Greek government, which is for example the case for Americans and Russians.
No corona test is required to get on a plane to Greece, although there is sample testing of passengers at all Greek airports and ports. Passengers flying to Greece need to fill in a PLF (health questionnaire form) no later than 48 hours before flying to Greece.
Each passenger will then receive a QR code, which will determine whether you will be selected for sample corona testing or can proceed directly to passport control and baggage reclaim without a test. If you are selected for a test, you need to self-isolate at your first location in Greece for 24 hours until the test results are in.
Typing this from Greece as we speak, I can only say that these measures are badly needed as Greece is walking a tightrope between protecting the tourism sector and the health of the Greek population.
Don’t forget that especially on the small islands the health care structure is fragile – as serious corona cases need to be evacuated to hospitals on the mainland or on larger islands like Crete.
If you don’t have a holiday booked yet and are willing to take the risk, Greece is a wonderful destination. There are some great deals around, both for flights and hotels.
Greek people are perhaps even more hospitable and friendly than they normally already are as they know they have to show their best face in order to save as much of the season as they can. Two hoteliers whom I spoke to both said that bookings for July were perhaps only 10 percent of what they normally are, while for August it is around 20 to 25 percent.
So far I’m impressed with corona measures being taken by hotels and cafes. Staff will wear face masks or even visors, there is disinfection gel everywhere and there are dozens of other small precautions. In one hotel, the check-out time was even put two hours earlier (10am instead of noon) to ensure that there is enough time to clean all rooms properly.
In this bizarre corona summer, such measures can only be applauded in my opinion.
That said, even though Greece feels surrealistically empty – local life is the same as normal. In the evenings, the taverns are still as cheerful as in normal times for example! If you can spare the money and are willing to take the risk, do the Greek tourism sector a favour and book a trip to this wonderful country.
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