Symi is very quiet. A few Greek tourists. A handful of foreigners from ‘safe’ low risk destinations. Bored local teenagers whizzing up and down the road, sound systems blaring. Pensioners watering their vegetable plots and grandmothers taking an early morning swim. The temperature continues to rise and every afternoon there is a gentle migration to the sea to cool off. Locals play at being tourists as they have little or no work and nothing much to do. Very few places are open, and those that are, are generally empty. The cicadas chirp on regardless.
The harbour is devoid of day-trippers. There are no water taxis bustling in and out of Yialos. All dressed up and no where to go.
The Greek domestic airports opened to direct flights from other EU destinations and 13 third-party ones yesterday. This comes with all sorts of provisos and restrictions which you can find here. As you probably know, direct flights from the UK, the USA and Sweden are still forbidden due to the very high levels of infection in those countries. They may be major contributors to Greece’s usual annual tourist income, but the risks outweigh any possible benefit, particularly as a number of recent cases have been linked to people coming in from the USA and UK via various roundabout routes.
What seems to be more of a problem is that would be travellers from countries that ARE on the approved list are being messed about by various airlines. For instance, Danes booking with Spies for holidays in September, which is two months away, are having their flights cancelled on the grounds that there is insufficient demand. Well, if they still have two months in which to sell tickets and people are only just starting to make plans, why cancel flights now? That only creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fear of making plans and then having them cancelled, often at short notice (vis a vis those who were booked on flights from London for 1 July who were only informed on 30 June that they were cancelled) and fighting to redeem vouchers and refunds from flights cancelled earlier in the year are certainly putting people off travelling, even if they have already had – and recovered from – the dreaded virus.
The Greek government has put all sorts of measures in place to make travel as safe as possible. Everyone travelling to Greece has to complete an on line Passenger Locator Form 48 hours before travelling, answering a lot of questions regarding where they have been for the past fortnight and who they have met as well as providing accurate details of where they will be staying on arrival in Greece. Based on this information they are issued with a QR code to present on landing. This determines whether they will be tested or not. Other passengers will be subject to random testing. There is more information about this on the links above. By the way, the penalties for providing incorrect information are hefty and if you haven’t completed the form and received the QR code, you aren’t allowed to fly anyway.
Quarantine hotels have been established in various towns around the country so anyone, whether Greek or foreign tourist, can be isolated if not sufficiently ill to require hospitalisation. On Symi the Chorio clinic is designated an isolation unit and anyone who falls ill with the virus will be helicoptered to Rhodes. (Apologies for the Facebook link, unfortunately this video was not uploaded onto the more widely accessible YouTube.)
Unfortunately the dearth of tourists on Symi has severe implications for the Symiots themselves. Apart from pensioners and those in the merchant navy or working for the banks, power station and so on, everyone else is dependent on tourist revenues of one sort or another to pay the bills and put food on the table. Whether it is foreign property owners or tourists staying in hotels and short stay accommodation, it is the money coming in from outside that keeps the island’s economy moving. Greece does not have a well-developed welfare state to help people over the hard times – historically the solution has been mass migration rather than state intervention – and the Covid-19 crisis has lasted far longer than the government had initially anticipated. If you are able to travel to Symi this year, even if it is for a few weeks much later in the year, please do. It is going to be a long wait for those who have had no income since October 2019 if they have to wait until the spring of 2021 before they start earning again and by that time many of your favourite haunts may well have shut down permanently.