Athens There is not much going on in spring, on the small Greek island of Symi in the eastern Aegean. At this time of year, the 2500 residents are usually among themselves. Most shops and pensions are closed, the narrow streets deserted. But now more visitors come than usual with the ferry that connects Symi with the port of Piraeus three times a week.
Mayor Leftheris Papakalodoukas believes he knows why they are taking the 16-hour journey: They take refuge from the corona virus on Symi. “We still have no infection on our island, but the way things are going will change very quickly,” fears Papakalodoukas. “We comply with government regulations,” the mayor reports in a mobile phone video on YouTube, “business people have closed their stores, we stay at home, but what does it help if the virus is introduced?”
Fear is not only about Symi. Thodoris Tzoumas, Mayor of the Sporades island of Skiathos, would also like to seal off his island community immediately. Skiathos is known for its beautiful beaches and exuberant nightlife.
In summer the island attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. Most people here live from tourism. But now every visitor is suspicious: This week two Italians arrived from Milan, the next day two British, Mayor Tzoumas told the newspaper “Kathimerini”.
The strangers were asked not to move in public, “but they ignore it”. In a letter to the government in Athens, declared “urgent”, the local politician is now demanding that passenger traffic to the mainland be stopped immediately.
Many islands have not been affected by infections so far
Quarantine – no one likes to hear the word. But more and more Greek island communities are now calling for it. There are still only a few cases of infection on the 113 inhabited Greek islands. A case is known from the south of the Aegean island of Lesbos.
Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea has an infection center with four diseases. The other islands have not been officially affected so far, although there is a high probability that there will be undiscovered cases.
The Greek Ministry of Health officially reports 495 infected people, according to the status on Friday evening. However, the epidemiologist Athina Linou estimates that there are already 10,000 to 15,000 cases. Other experts expect 50,000.
The greater the fear of many islanders of visitors who could bring in the virus. Especially since many city dwellers are now thinking that they come from one of the islands. Quite a few have holiday homes there.
They usually come during the summer vacation in July and August. “But now we suddenly see people who have not been around for years,” reports Evanthia Papadatou from the island of Kefalonia. Four Athenians showed up in their village Svoronata this week. “To relax”, as they told the pensioner. But may they bring the epidemic with them?
Leftheris Karaiskos, mayor of the small island community of Amorgos, is also concerned. “More and more visitors have come from the mainland in the past few days,” reports Karaiskos. He hopes everyone will stay healthy. “Because on our island we have no way of treating serious illnesses,” says the mayor.
Practice with rudimentary equipment
In fact, there is often only a doctor’s office or a health center with rudimentary equipment on the smaller islands. Anyone who gets seriously ill on these islands must be flown to the mainland.
Larger islands such as Rhodes, Crete or Corfu have modern clinics with intensive care units and ventilators. But even there you would be overwhelmed in an epidemic. Especially since the islands have an above average number of older people who are now particularly at risk.
Local politicians in the island regions have therefore been appealing to the government for days to stop the flow of visitors. Giannis Plakiotakis, Minister of the Navy responsible for merchant shipping, responded on Friday.
From 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, only permanent islanders are allowed to use the ferries and visitors returning from the islands to the mainland. Truck drivers bringing supplies to the islands are exempt from the restrictions.
The number of passengers on the ferries is also drastically restricted: only one passenger is allowed on each ten square meter area in the ship’s lounge. “With these measures we protect our fellow citizens on the islands,” explains the Minister of the Navy. He advises the islanders to ministers to “take a boat trip only in urgent emergencies”. Plakiotis appeals: “We show a sense of social responsibility, we stay at home!”
Spanish islands cordon themselves off
The Spanish islands have already sealed off: the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands have blocked entry and exit since last Thursday and have largely closed their ports and airports. There are exceptions only for islanders who want to return home or for tourists who want to leave the islands. Freight transport is excluded from the regulation.
The islands themselves want to protect themselves from imported infections. The exit ban in turn is intended to prevent infected people from carrying the virus from the island to other parts of the country. There has been a curfew across Spain since the night of last Sunday. After Italy, the country is most affected in Europe.
Assistance: Sandra Louven
More: Corona and travel: If you have booked a holiday abroad over Easter, you will probably not be able to take it on due to the corona crisis. What is important now.