Spring Break on Symi?

Spring is in the air and people are starting to make travel plans, regardless of whether their government thinks they should or not. The Greek Minister of Tourism is wooing international tourism and various announcements are being made in the overseas media that create the impression that Greece is already open. The reality on the ground is actually very different. Infection rates in Athens and other regions are higher than ever and Greece is still in a heavy lockdown. Although there is a vaccination program underway it will be many weeks before it is completed.

The following is a summary of where we are at the moment. This may change at any stage but right now this is what is required to travel to Greece and what you can expect should you get here.

At the moment there is a restriction on non-essential travel (tourism) to Greece.  The government website travel.gov.gr gives the full information in detail.  The salient points are:

  1. The traveler must have a negative Covid-19 test not more than 72 hours before travelling. The results must be from an approved testing facility, in English and including the traveler’s passport number or ID.
  2. The traveler must complete a PLF form (available from the link above) 24 hours before traveling and receive the QR code which they must have to be allowed to board the flight. This is the same as last year.
  3. To travel between municipalities and prefectures once in Greece the traveler must have proof of a valid reason to reach their end destination.  A Greek tax certificate (E1) that shows ones tax residence is Symi is accepted proof of the necessity to travel to Symi.  (Non-essential internal travel in Greece is still illegal.)
  4. The traveler must self-isolate for 7 days from arrival at their destination, for example Symi.  This means no shopping, walks etcetera for a week. The person must stay at home. For example, if you decide to come to Symi to open up your house for the spring, you must make arrangements before you arrive to have your food supplies delivered so that you don’t have to leave the house or have contact with other people for the 7 days’ isolation. The police can make random checks to make sure that you are at home and they may also call you at random times on your landline telephone to ensure that you are where you ought to be. The fines for violations are serious.

The situation in Greece.  Greece is still in hard lockdown. This countrywide lockdown started on 7 November 2020 and has not been lifted.  Details of the lockdown and the permit system are given on forma.gov.gr  including the format for the SMS system. The salient points are:

  1. A Greek SIM is required to access the SMS permit system.  The reasons for being allowed to leave the house are as follows:
    1. SMS 1 – medical
    2. SMS 2 – to shop for food
    3. SMS 3 – to go to the bank or post office
    4. SMS 4 – to render assistance to the elderly/vulnerable and to transport spouses/children.  Note.  It is illegal to give lifts to non family members.
    5. SMS 5 – to attend a funeral
    6. SMS 6 – to exercise on foot or by bicycle. Not more than 3 people together.
  2. The curfew is from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  3. Limited retail may be available from next week, using a Click and Collect system by appointment and using a different coding system. This will have a time limit of 3 hours per day.  This is unlikely to affect anything on Symi.
  4. Cafes can only offer take aways.  Bars, tavernas, restaurants etcetera are all closed.
  5. Masks are to be worn at all times, including outside and social distancing regulations apply.
  6. Police can stop you at any time to check that you have your SMS permit, your passport or ID and are wearing a mask.
  7. There is no mixing of households.

Spring Shots on Symi

Spring is the prettiest time of the year on Symi. Every day brings new flowers, new scents and new colours to the landscape. Orange blossom, hawthorn, cyclamens, daisies of all sizes and colours. The sheep and goats are spoiled for choice. This spring has also brought the Covid-19 vaccination to the island, of which more later.

This weekend is normally a holiday weekend in Greece, with carnival celebrations followed by the traditional Clean Monday picnics and kite flying in the countryside. This year there is no carnival, as was also the case in 2020. The Clean Monday kite flying is permitted under SMS code 6 for exercise, with the proviso that people can only go to parks to fly kites if they go on foot or by bicycle and maintain the social distancing rules. Anyone who has been following the recent upheavals in Nea Smyrni, Athens, will be wondering how well this will go down. On Symi, which dances to its own tune, families will no doubt head up the mountain to their usual family places and do what they usually do. Athens seems a long way away.

The vaccination program has been underway on Symi for several weeks now. Our age group came up last week and we received a phone call from the clinic, telling us exactly what time to arrive for our appointment. After 3 weeks of dry weather of course vaccination day had to bring torrential rain and gale force winds. The clinic door was locked to control entry and exit with everyone only allowed in as their time slot came up. Effectively not more than 4 people were in the surgery at any one time, excluding the staff – the person currently receiving their shot, the next in line and the previous two waiting out the 15-30 minutes recovery time (30 minutes for those with a history of allergies). Everything was done in a very smooth and professional manner. A brief medical history was taken before hand and the right questions were asked. We received the Pfizer injection and are happy to report no side effects. We are to report back at the same time in 3 weeks to receive the second shot. By the way, other routine business such as the issuing of repeat prescriptions was being conducted through the open window of the waiting room. The KEP office at the town hall operates similarly.

According to various articles in the press, the general idea seems to be to try to get the island tourist economies up and running again as quickly as possible with a target date of 14 May. This will be dependent on getting enough people vaccinated for this to be deemed safe and, of course, for borders to open to international travel. As the situation changes on a daily basis everything is still very uncertain.