SIKINOS, Greece — Using dinghies, GPS and a portable refrigerator, doctors deployed by Greece’s national public health agency have launched a coronavirus testing drive on the country’s Aegean Sea islands ahead of the summer vacation season.
Ferry service for visitors to the islands resumed Monday, and Greece plans to start welcoming international travelers again on June 15. The government hopes the comparatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in Greece — just under 2,900 cases with 173 deaths — will attract foreign tourists and and ease the effects of an expected recession.
While many island residents depend on tourism for their livelihoods, they have also taken comfort in their isolation during the pandemic and worry about opening up to outsiders.
“So far things have gone well. … Now with the people who will come, what will happen?” asked Katerina Vikeli, a resident of the island of Milos.
According to Greek Health Ministry, the entire Cyclades island chain, which includes Milos as well as the popular holiday destinations of Paros, Naxos, Mykonos and Santorini, accounts for only four of the country’s total reported cases.
Only three of Greece’s virus deaths took place on inhabited islands, of which there are more than 200.
To prevent a surge in infections, ferries are running with reduced capacity. Hospitals on the Greek islands are receiving resources to create intensive care units.
Many smaller islands with only basic medical facilities are being helped by local aid groups like Symplefsi, which supplied volunteers and inflatable dinghies to help doctors from a state-run health agency perform virus tests on remote islands such as Sikinos. The islands is 18 miles northwest of Santorini and has a population of 260.
“Our goal is to make the residents feel safer (with) faster intervention when needed for residents or tourists,” National Public Health Organization President Panagiotis Arkoumaneas said while joining the island test initiative.
“That’s why we are strengthening our islands, we are strengthening our ability. We have to perform COVID testing,” he said. ___ Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas contributed from Athens.