EDIT It has been brought to my attention that this is an entirely private initiative and has nothing to do with the pharmacies on Symi or the Symi clinic.
If you follow the various Symi forums on Facebook and other social media you may have already seen this announcement that came through yesterday, 6 June 2021.
It is now possible to book an appointment for someone to come to you at your accommodation on Symi to administer a test. The sample is then sent by ferry to Rhodes and you receive the results by email. They can do PCR, rapid test or self test, depending on what you require.
The platform to book this opens today and the website is www.kavada.gr/symi-island. The local contact is through Eleousa Lambrou and her mobile phone number is +30 6945 790035. She can be contacted through WhatsApp.
Please note, this has to be done by appointment and taking into account the ferry schedules and processing times so please don’t leave it to the last minute.
This post is more local news than photos. Once again I have dithered over writing because the situation keeps changing and it is difficult to stay up to date. This blog post is not definitive. By the time you read it things may have changed again.
First of all, PCR tests. I keep being asked about these. At the moment it is not possible to have them done on Symi. This is not because the authorities do not realise the need for this service, as some may think. The authorities on all the small islands are struggling with the same issue. The minimalist nature of medical services in the islands and sheer lack of funding is the problem. Normally tourists are unaware of the fact that the small islands have inadequate medical facilities. This is something we all have to live with all year round and is a constant source of frustration for residents. The list of helpful websites to contact to book testing appointments is here. The facilities have been extending their hours and so far the appointment system seems to be working.
Someone did recently manage to return to the UK with a prepaid antigen test which they brought with them from a UK vendor and self-administered under supervision via a smart device. Whether this is viable by the time you travel or acceptable for the country you return to is unknowable. A very useful link to check is this one on Aegean Air’s website. It is lists all the countries to which they fly and the entry requirements as well as the requirements for internal flights and they update as the information changes. Even if you are not flying with Aegean it is a good starting point for information. Just remember that they too cannot prophecise what the situation will be in a fortnight/month/September.
Secondly, ferries. We have lots of these this year. Symi has never had so many connections. The ANES passenger vessel Sebeco is running at least twice daily through the summer. The layout of the schedule is a bit confusing so read it carefully to make sure you are in the right part of the year and that you are looking at the time it is leaving rather than arriving. Blue Star ferries have just announced a fourth Symi route for the summer. This will be using the Blue Star 2 and comes through on Tuesday at wonderful times for Symiots – We hope it continues to leave Symi at 8 and leave Rhodes at 5 as those times are too good to be true!
The SAOS car ferry Stavros continues to come through Symi going north on Mondays and Thursdays and south on Tuesdays and Fridays. This connects us with Kos, Halki, Tilos and Nissyros. Heavily subsidised by the state, they are running special free passenger travel between certain islands during the shoulder periods so this is a very good deal. Dodecanese Seaways is also operating. Their days are a bit ad hoc and the weekend schedules change weekly at the moment so keep checking. As they are not subsidised, they can only afford to run routes that are profitable and they take charters, particularly on Sundays, which is why their weekend schedules tend to be erratic.
Another bit of ferry news worth noting is that Seajets have announced a new route three times a week connecting Rhodes with Crete via Halki and Karpathos. This will leave Rhodes at midday so you can leave Symi on the early Blue Star or Sebeco and arrive in Rhodes with enough time to make the Seajet Paros to Crete and be in Sitia, Crete by half past six in the evening. At the moment this route is not showing on their official website but their ticket office has already been set up inside the coffee shop in Akandia and this schedule below is circulating on social media.
The news that the EU is still out of bounds for British travellers is a serious blow for Greek tourism. June is traditionally a ‘British month’ for Greece. Here on Symi there have been a lot of cancellations and the only British travellers around are those who are flexible about their return dates or are not likely to be affected by the need to self-isolate for 10 days on their return, whenever that may be.
At time of writing only 25 of the 650 seasonal hotels on Rhodes have actually opened since Greece officially opened to international tourism on 14 May. Many who were intending to open in the course of June are now delaying until July which means more seasonal workers still don’t know if they have jobs or not. Those that are open are running on skeleton staff because they don’t have enough guests to cover their costs. Something to remember is that many holiday companies only pay the hotels long after the season has ended, which causes serious cash flow problems at the best of times.
A limited number of Russians are allowed to travel to Greece each week, as long as they have the correct vaccination information or a negative PCR test. The Greek media are full of the story of a Russian tourist who arrived with a negative PCR test and wound up on a respirator in ICU in northern Greece within a day of arrival. It would seem that his test paper was fraudulent as his family back home in Russia were all ill with Covid-19 so the chances of his test result being accurate are small.
Israelis have been able to travel freely to Greece since April, as long as they are vaccinated, but the current unrest in the region is discouraging people from travelling. There have been strong tourism links between Rhodes and Israel in recent years, particularly package holidays connected with the casino which is now feeling the pinch.
And so it goes on.
The hotels on Symi are slowly opening but once again until they are sure that they have guests there is no rush. There are some hopes of a surge in domestic tourism as the weekend of 20 June is the Greek Orthodox Pentecost long weekend. More restaurants and cafes are opening up gradually. We are seeing a few day-trippers from Rhodes now, coming in on either the Sebeco or the Zeus. 50-100 people tops so not really enough to warrant opening up all the waterfront shops in the hope that they will stop to buy something and they are mostly part of guided groups.
Today is the day Greece seriously starts to emerge from a lockdown that started on 7 November 2020, nearly 7 long months ago. From today we no longer have to send SMSes or carry permits every time we leave the house. We don’t have to make appointments to go shopping. We can even stay out until midnight! The curfew remains but it is now from half past midnight until 5 a.m.
There are still restrictions on movement however. In order to travel between regions, particularly between the mainland and the islands and within the islands, one must either have a vaccination certificate, a negative PCR test or a rapid test. The airlines and ferry companies have been charged with controlling this and this applies to Greek residents and foreign tourists alike. The reason for this is that up to now the islands have remained relatively unscathed – and the islands have minimal medical facilities, particularly in terms of Covid-19 ICU wards and respirators. Kalymnos is an example of what happens when the virus gets a grip on a small community.
Although many islanders have been vaccinated the government is playing it safe for the foreseeable future as it will take a while for full immunity. Many travellers will have some form of vaccination pass by the summer. For those who don’t, the testing requirements certainly complicate island-hopping holidays and it makes sense to spend holiday time on only one or two islands to minimise the number of tests required to move between destinations.
Masks are still mandatory, both indoors and outside, and social distancing is still a requirement. There are still limits to how many people at a taverna or cafe table (6 at time of writing) and only outdoor seating is permitted (no hardship now that temperatures are in the 30s). The ban on all music in venues of all kinds remains at least until the end of May.
Here on Symi, speaking to random business owners, there is no rush to get started. The summer season on Symi has started late in recent years, even before the pandemic, and places like beach tavernas normally only aim to start operation in June anyway. Most of the taxi boats are back in the water now but the operator I spoke to said he would only start operations at the end of the month. Basically, until Rhodes starts to fill up with tourists and the day excursion boats begin, there is little traffic in the harbour to warrant opening up tourist shops and lunch-time dining. Hotels likewise are looking at June to open their doors.
No one really knows what is happening in terms of tourist arrivals on Symi. Many of the island’s usual visitors at this time of the year come from the UK. Unfortunately Greece, and most of the EU, is on the Amber list on for British tourism.
While Greece is open to receive tourists from most countries, the countries of origin are making it complicated – and expensive in terms of mandatory testing – for their nationals to travel abroad for their holidays. This is stalling advance bookings and also makes international holidays prohibitive for many families and couples. Germany, one of Greece’s main markets, has only just lifted the requirement for returnees to go into quarantine. TUI is optimistic but it will take a while for this to translate into bodies on sunbeds in seaside resorts and, in the case of Symi, day-trippers from Rhodes.
We shall see what this evening’s further government announcements bring.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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:
A Greek SIM is required to access the SMS permit system. The reasons for being allowed to leave the house are as follows:
SMS 1 – medical
SMS 2 – to shop for food
SMS 3 – to go to the bank or post office
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.
SMS 5 – to attend a funeral
SMS 6 – to exercise on foot or by bicycle. Not more than 3 people together.
The curfew is from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
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.
Cafes can only offer take aways. Bars, tavernas, restaurants etcetera are all closed.
Masks are to be worn at all times, including outside and social distancing regulations apply.
Police can stop you at any time to check that you have your SMS permit, your passport or ID and are wearing a mask.