Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sunday Athens would spend an extra 6.8 billion euros ($8.0 billion) to fight the coronavirus’s impact on the country’s economy.
A slew of new outlays will include slashing companies’ social contributions, creating 100,000 jobs and tax cuts for residents on tourist islands that have suffered from the pandemic’s impact on travel, the PM told journalists in the port city Thessaloniki.
Mitsotakis added that he would extend out-of-work benefits for an extra two months, in the country with the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone.
The measures come on top of a 24-billion-euro package decided in spring.
Greek output shrank by 15.2 percent in the second quarter, and Mitsotakis forecast a contraction of “between eight and nine percent of GDP” over the full year before a 2021 rebound.
Greece’s central bank predicts GDP down 5.8 percent this year, while the IMF’s outlook is for a 10-percent plunge.
While the tourism sector brought in more than 18 billion euros for the Greek economy last year, the 2020 take may reach only 3.5 billion according to the SETE industry group.
Over the decade of its agonising debt crisis from 2008-18, Greek GDP shrank by almost one-quarter.
The country had returned to growth in recent years, but its economy remains delicate.
Although Greece has suffered less from the coronavirus than its European neighbours, recording just 305 deaths so far, the strict lockdown imposed for six weeks in spring brought activity to a halt and delayed the start of tourist season.
Greece said it will launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, the focus of escalating tensions between Athens and Ankara.
The joint exercises south of Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete will last three days, the defence ministry said.
The discovery of major gas deposits in waters surrounding Crete and Cyprus has triggered a scramble for energy riches and revived old rivalries between NATO members Greece and Turkey.
Tensions ratched up another notch when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10.
“Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have agreed to deploy a joint presence in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the quadripartite cooperation initiative,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
“The tensions and instability in the eastern Mediterranean have heightened disputes on issues concerning maritime space.”
Turkey said on Tuesday it is ready for talks with Greece without preconditions over the row.
The olive branch came ahead of an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday at which Greece is expected to press the bloc to slap biting sanctions on its historic regional rival.
But EU nations would prefer to avoid irritating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shuttled between Athens and Ankara in a bid to temper the rhetoric and get talks back on track.
Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told the two countries to defuse the row or risk sparking a “catastrophe”.
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire was released from Greek police custody Saturday, TV footage showed, ahead of a hearing on assault charges on the island of Mykonos.
Wearing a baseball cap and mask, Maguire was shown leaving a courthouse on neighbouring Syros island, accompanied by what appeared to be members of his legal team, and boarding a dark minivan.
The England centre-back’s hearing has been set for Tuesday but he is not obliged to be present.
Manchester United said in a statement: “Following the appearance in court today we note the adjournment of the case to allow the legal team to consider the case file.
“Harry has pleaded not guilty to the charges. It would be inappropriate for the player or club to comment further while the legal process takes its course,” the club said.
His lawyer Constantinos Darivas had earlier told Greek sports website gazzetta.gr that the England centre-back had denied the charges, and was in “fine condition” despite spending two nights in detention since his Thursday night arrest.
Greek TV channel Mega said Maguire’s father had flown to Greece to be at his son’s side.
The case is being heard on the island of Syros, the administrative hub of the Cycladic island group that includes Mykonos.
The £80 million (88 million euros) defender was arrested late Thursday after what Greek police described as an “altercation” between two groups of British tourists on Mykonos.
Mega said Maguire had become enraged after someone in the other group struck his sister.
A Greek police statement on Friday said that three men aged 27, 28 and 29 had been arrested in Mykonos.
The police said an officer was punched on the scene, and that a second fight had broken out at the local police station where the three men “strenuously resisted (arrest), pushing and striking three officers.”
One of the suspects then tried to bribe the officers to hush up the incident, the police said.
The suspects are accused of assault, resisting arrest, verbally insulting and threatening the arresting officers, and attempted bribery, the police said.
Four Mykonos officers sustained slight injuries in the fracas, the authorities said.
Mykonos is popular with sports stars and celebrities for its all-night nightlife and beaches.
United’s 2019/20 season ended Sunday in a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League semi-finals.
But the club will be back in pre-season training in two weeks and could begin the new Premier League campaign in less than a month.
On Monday, Maguire had tweeted after the elimination: “Time to go away, reflect, recover and be ready to come back stronger next season.”
Greece’s health minister on Tuesday said he expects the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in December under an EU deal for some three million doses overall.
“If all goes well, Greece will receive its agreed share in seven deliveries…we will start with 700,000 doses in December,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias told SKAI TV.
The deliveries will be made monthly between December and June, he said.
The European Commission on August 14 said it had reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca “to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19 as well as to donate to lower and middle income countries or re-direct to other European countries.”
It said “once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective” it would purchase 300 million doses with an “option to purchase 100 million more on behalf of EU Member States.”
Greece has a relatively low infection and mortality rate compared to other EU states, but the spread of the virus has shot up alarmingly this month.
There are over 7,200 cases, including some 2,800 in August, and 230 people have died of the virus in Greece.
Authorities have blamed the spike in infections to the flouting of social distancing rules in restaurants, bars and public gatherings.
The civil protection agency has imposed night curfews for eateries and clubs in over a dozen parts of the country, including some of Greece’s leading tourist destinations.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has warned that “more drastic measures that will doubtlessly have economic repercussions” would be taken if the spread of the virus is not halted.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday will announce “operational improvements” in his government, his spokesman said as the country seeks to quell a rise in coronavirus infections after reopening to tourism.
The announcement on what is expected to be a limited reshuffle will be made at midday (0900 GMT), government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
“We are talking about improving the government’s performance as we head into major challenges,” a lawmaker of the government’s conservative New Democracy party, Kostas Karagounis, told state TV ERT, pointing to the ongoing tourism season and the risks of the coronavirus pandemic.
Greece has seen COVID-19 infections increase this month to levels last seen in April, with officials blaming overcrowding in clubs and social events.
Since July 1 there have been over 340 confirmed infections among nearly 1.3 million incoming travellers, according to the civil protection agency.
News reports said the overhaul was also designed to improve the government’s coordination in managing Greece’s share in a 750-billion-euro ($884-billion) recovery package agreed by EU leaders last month.
Greece stands to receive 32 billion euros from the Next Generation EU scheme.
A reshuffle had been expected since June, when Mitsotakis dropped a hint about “corrective moves” in the government during a visit to Israel.
Just over a year after coming to power, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party leads in opinion polls by at least 14 percent.
The economy is expected to contract by 5.8 percent this year according to the Bank of Greece, partly because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism revenue.
Greece prepared to welcome tourist flights to its island destinations on Wednesday for the first time in months, as it raced to salvage a tourism season shredded by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 100 flights from other EU nations and a select group of non-EU countries are expected at 14 regional airports including Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete, airport operator Fraport said.
Flights from Britain, one of its most lucrative travel markets, are not due to restart until July 15 at the earliest, in line with EU recommendations. The same applies to the United States, Russia, Turkey and Sweden.
Greece halted most flights three months ago as part of restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus, but the measures have seen the sector’s revenues plummet.
All Greek airports are now receiving international flights and the ports of Patras and Igoumentsa will again receive ferries from Italy.
Fourteen non-EU countries — including Australia, Canada, Japan and Uruguay — have been deemed safe enough for visitors to be allowed back.
But travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter only if Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.
Travellers will be given scannable bar codes after they fill out a questionnaire with personal details such as their country of origin and the countries they have travelled through in the last 15 days.
Those who are tested will be told to isolate at the address provided on the questionnaire while waiting for the results.
“It will be a very difficult tourism season. We will do the best we can,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the cabinet this week.
Greece, which has a relatively low coronavirus death toll under 200, has launched a promotional campaign to revive tourism, which accounts for a quarter of its gross domestic product.
The country hopes to reassure potential travellers as well as Greeks, who fear a resurgence of the pandemic with the return of tourists.
Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis on Tuesday signed an agreement with German tour giant TUI aiming to bring in some 1.5 million tourists — 50 percent of the number the agent brought to Greece in 2019.
“We’re trying to save the season,” Amelia Vlachou, a jewellery shop owner on Corfu, told AFP.
“Of course it doesn’t compare with previous years when we had lots of people.”
According to Bank of Greece figures, the country in 2019 had more than 34 million visitors who spent over 18 billion euros.
Operators say a realistic revenue goal this year is up to five billion euros.
On land border crossings, travellers from Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey are only allowed in for emergency reasons or by special permission.
Tourists travelling to Greece will be required from Wednesday to complete an online questionnaire 48 hours in advance to determine whether they need to be tested for coronavirus on arrival.
Over the weekend the Greek government ended random testing of travellers according to their country of origin, which had confused tourists who did not know whether they should spend a night in a hotel to be tested after landing in Athens and Thessaloniki, or go directly into quarantine.
Greece, which has a relatively low coronavirus death toll at 191, has launched a promotional campaign to revive tourism — which accounts for a quarter of its gross domestic product — and hopes to reassure potential travellers as well as Greeks who fear a resurgence of the pandemic with the return of tourists.
Under the new protocol, travellers are given scannable bar codes after they fill out a questionnaire with personal details such as their country of origin and the countries they have travelled through in the last 15 days.
The questionnaire is mandatory until August 31.
Bar codes will be scanned from printed paper or mobile devices at ports of arrival, which will determine whether travellers will be directed to the exit or to a screening area.
Those who are tested will be told to isolate at the address provided on the questionnaire while waiting for the results.
The new protocol “is most likely to be able to detect the majority of imported cases”, Dimitris Paraskevis, a member of the health ministry’s expert committee, told Skai TV.
All airports in the country will reopen to international flights by Wednesday and the ports of Patras and Igoumenista will again receive ferries from Italy, while other ports will be reopened to cruise ships.
Seemingly unaffected by the controversy in the global scientific community, Greece has resumed production of chloroquine to treat cases of coronavirus and is conducting clinical trials with a “calm and distant approach”, scientists there say.
Chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and hydroxychloroquine, a related compound normally used to treat arthritis, have been among the most high-profile drugs being tested for use against COVID-19.
But last week a major UK trial run by Oxford University halted its tests of the drugs, saying there was no evidence they worked against the new coronavirus in hospitalised patients.
The move came just after the World Health Organization (WHO) resumed its own trials after briefly suspending them in response to a now-retracted study in The Lancet.
But the ongoing debate over the drugs has had little impact in Greece, where epidemiologists consider chloroquine effective, especially in the early stages of COVID-19.
– Renewed licence –
Evangelia Sakellariou, a chemist responsible for quality control in a laboratory in the Athens suburb of Nea Kifissia, was one of the first scientists to have tested the chloroquine tablets used in Greek hospitals.
As the scale of the pandemic became apparent earlier this year, the company Uni-Pharma moved quickly to renew an old manufacturing licence for the drug, which was exported to Africa in the 1990s for the treatment of malaria.
The licence was reactivated in March, just days before Greece closed its borders to contain the spread of the virus, Spyros Kintzios, Uni-Pharma’s development director, told AFP.
Five tonnes of raw material were imported from India and the laboratory went into “high-alert”, Sakellariou said.
“On the weekend of March 21 we were working constantly, we were under pressure and in 30 hours we produced 24 million doses, which were then offered to the Greek national health system,” she said of the pills, made under the brand name Unikinon.
“When I saw the first tablets, I felt relieved and happy to have made this effort for a good cause,” Sakellariou added.
At the time, there were only six coronavirus deaths and 464 recorded infections in Greece. The country has remained one of the least affected in Europe, with 182 deaths and under 3,000 official cases so far.
Against a backdrop of international competition, “the resumption of chloroquine production in Greece has had a positive effect on local industry, whose exports have increased in recent years,” said Markos Ollandezos, president of the Panhellenic Union of the Pharmaceutical Industry.
The Greek industry is mainly specialised in the manufacture of generic drugs and some commonly used medicines.
– ‘We wait and see’ –
The debate on chloroquine in other countries has not affected its use in Greece, where it has been administered to hospitalised patients in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin.
In April, the Athens Medical University started a study on “the activity of chloroquine phosphate in patients with SARS-CoV-2 virus infection”, to test how the drug could prevent or improve symptoms of pneumonia.
There has been little debate on treatment in the country because coronavirus has caused so few deaths, said Ollandezos.
“People in Greece — the public, healthcare professionals, people within institutional roles — they maintain a very calm and distant approach to chloroquine,” said Kintzios at Uni-Pharma.
“So the idea is that we wait and see, we wait for the results,” he said.
Globally, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been swept up in a politically charged debate amid the pandemic, with hydroxychloroquine endorsed by public figures including US President Donald Trump.
At a press conference in May, Greek health ministry spokesman Sotiris Tsiodras said “chloroquine’s action is still contested”.
Last week’s retraction of the Lancet study — which had found the drugs had no benefit in treating coronavirus, and even increased the likelihood of patients dying in hospital — rocked public opinion and the scientific community.
However, the manufacture of both medications has continued in many countries in Europe.
France’s Sanofi produces hydroxychloroquine sulfate at a site in Hungary. The drug itself, under the brand name Plaquenil, is manufactured at two large production sites in Spain and France.
Plaquenil is exported to several countries where hydroxychloroquine is not produced, such as Greece, Poland and Estonia.
In Bulgaria, chloroquine from the state laboratory Bul Bio is used for treating COVID-19 patients.
Poland, which also authorises its use, is considered a major producer of chloroquine with company Adamed producing it under the name Arechin.
Questioned by AFP, a Hungarian government spokesman stressed that the drug was not administered to new patients but only to those who have already started treatment.
The new extension to the lockdown on the camps comes after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled a new tourism campaign, saying: “We are opening Greece’s windows and doors to the world gradually but with optimism.”
Greece has announced a “transition phase” between June 15 and 30, during which airports in Athens and Thessaloniki will again receive regular passenger flights.
Other regional and island airports are to open on July 1.
Greece plans to impose a quarantine of between seven and 14 days on travellers from only the hardest-hit areas as identified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
However, sample tests will also be carried out at entry points for epidemiological purposes.
Greece on Saturday expanded its list of approved flights from EU destinations to include airports in countries hard-hit by the coronavirus, but flights from the worst-hit regions will still be subject to quarantine measures.
“It will now depend on airport of origin, not country (of origin),” a government official told AFP.
For France, the quarantine measures will apply to flights from the Ile-de-France region in and around Paris, officials said. For Italy, airports in the northern regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Piemonte and Veneto are considered high-risk.
The same holds for Spanish airports in Castile and Leon, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and Madrid, all areas hit hard by the coronavirus.
Britain has 13 high-risk airports including Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.
But Edinburgh, which before the pandemic had direct flights to Greece, is not on the list.
A foreign ministry document on Saturday said Greece had drawn upon the recommendations of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to determine which EU airports were still high-risk.
And future flight policy will be based on EASA’s notifications that are renewed on a weekly basis, a second government official said.
From June 15 to 30, flights will only be allowed into Athens and Thessaloniki. Other regional and island airports will open on July 1.
“If your travel originated from an airport not in the EASA affected area list… then you are only subject to random tests upon arrival,” the ministry said.
“If you originate from an airport on the EASA affected area list, then you will be tested upon arrival,” it added.
“An overnight stay at a designated hotel is required. If the test is negative then the passenger self-quarantines for seven days. If the test is positive, the passenger is quarantined under supervision for 14 days,” the ministry said.
“Compulsory testing and quarantine will be limited only to travellers, irrespective of nationality”, it added.
On Friday, Greece had announced 29 countries as safe points of departure in a long-awaited statement.
The list included over a dozen EU countries but Britain, France, Italy and Spain were not among them owing to the spread of the pandemic there.
Certain flights into Athens international airport were still allowed during the lockdown for state affairs, cargo, emergencies and other purposes, but passengers entering the country had to quarantine.
Since May 4, Greece has progressively opened tourism-related businesses following a lockdown imposed in March to stave off an economic contraction that could reach 13 percent of output this year.
Year-round hotels are to resume operations on June 1, followed by seasonal hotels on June 15.
The country of 11 million has registered fewer than 180 deaths from COVID-19.