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Roundup: Greece's Blue-flagged beaches set to welcome tourists under COVID-19 safety rules
From:Xinhua  |  2020-05-31 03:45

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by Maria Spiliopoulou

ATHENS, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Greece's 517 Blue-flagged beaches, marinas and tourism vessels are set to welcome tourists under strict safety rules in the new COVID-19 pandemic era, according to Greek officials and experts.

The country's tourism industry is kick-starting for the summer season after a full lockdown earlier this spring that helped flatten the curve. With the new cases and fatalities in Greece counted mostly under 10 in the past few days, the economy has started to gradually restart from early May.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry announced seven new cases and no death within the past 24 hours. The country now has a total of 2,915 infections, including 175 fatalities since the start of the outbreak on Feb. 26.

On June 1, all-year hotels in the country will reopen.

The Tourism Ministry on Friday announced the first list of 29 countries, including China, that can start sending tourists to Greece as of June 15, when the international flights to Athens and Thessaloniki resume.

On July 1, more countries are expected to be added to the list, based on epidemiological data, the Greek government said.

Meanwhile, beaches across Greece have opened after getting "safety facelifts" to ensure appropriate social distancing between bathers.

Xinhua was given a tour on Friday around the popular beaches of Athens where the new post-COVID-19 operation protocol is applied.

A minimum distance of four meters is maintained between sets of umbrellas and sunbeds, which are regularly disinfected, as well as in showers.

The excellent quality of the seawater, safety and services provided were recognized with the prestigious Blue Flag international awards given this May to 497 beaches, 14 marinas and 6 tourism vessels nationwide.

Greece received the second largest number of Blue Flags for its beaches among over 40 countries worldwide this year, behind Spain, announced the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN) last week.

The Greek environmental group HSPN is the national operator of the program that runs for more than three decades under the auspices of the owner of the Blue Flag trademark, the Foundation for Environmental Education, which is headquartered in Copenhagen.

The Blue Flag is regarded as one of the most recognizable ecological symbols in the world, Nikos Petrou, HSPN President, noted in a message for the 2020 Blue Flag annual awards.

In order to qualify for the Blue Flag, a series of more than 30 stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained by operators of organized beaches, marinas and tourism vessels.

"Once again, Greece ranks second internationally among 47 countries participating in the program, after Spain and before Turkey. This allows us to have optimism for this year's summer," Petrou commented.

"This year's awards have a special significance. All together we are holding strongly the Blue Flag which unites us. In this difficult period, the sea, the sky and the sea depth is a comparative advantage for our country and our tourism industry," Manos Konsolas, Greece's Deputy Tourism Minister said in his message for the new awards.

"By maintaining a marina clean and safe, we are contributing to the national economy and local society," said Greek Marinas Association President Stavros Katsikadis.

Currently, some 45,000 people are employed in marinas across Greece which contribute about one billion euros (1.11 billion U.S. dollars) to Greek GDP per year, he noted.

In 2019, at least 33 million people visited Greece, generating 18.2 billion euros in revenues, according to Bank of Greece data on tourism. (1 euro= 1.11 U.S. dollars) Enditem