SIKINOS, Greece – Using boats, GPS, and a portable cooler, doctors deployed by Greece’s national public health agency launched a coronavirus screening test on the country’s Aegean islands before the summer holiday season.
The ferry service for visitors to the islands resumed on Monday, and Greece plans to start welcoming international travelers again on June 15. The government expects a relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Greece, just under 2,900 cases with 173 deaths. will attract foreign tourists and alleviate the effects of an expected recession.
While many island residents depend on tourism for their livelihood, they have also comforted themselves in their isolation during the pandemic and are concerned about opening up to strangers.
“So far things have been going well. … Now with the people who will come, what will happen? asked Katerina Vikeli, a resident of the island of Milos.
According to the Greek Ministry of Health, the entire Cycladic island chain, which includes Milos, as well as the popular holiday destinations of Paros, Naxos, Mykonos and Santorini, represents just four of the total reported cases in the country.
Only three of Greece’s virus deaths occurred on inhabited islands, of which there are more than 200.
To prevent an increase in infections, the ferries operate at reduced capacity. Hospitals on the Greek islands are receiving resources to create intensive care units.
Local aid groups like Symplefsi, which supplied volunteers and inflatable boats to help doctors at a state health agency test for viruses on remote islands like Sikinos, are helping many smaller islands with only basic medical facilities. The islands are 18 miles northwest of Santorini and have a population of 260.
“Our goal is to make residents feel safer (with) faster intervention when necessary for residents or tourists,” said the president of the National Public Health Organization, Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, by joining the trial initiative of the island.
“So we are strengthening our islands, we are strengthening our capacity. We have to do COVID testing,” he said. ___ Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas contributed from Athens.