England's 'Freedom Day' brings hopes of return of Brits to Greece

An aerial view shows Halikounas beach in Corfu, Greece July 19, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Adonis Skordilis

CORFU, Greece (Reuters) - British holidaymakers landed on the Greek island of Corfu on Monday, spurring hopes of a tourism recovery thanks to one of its most important markets.

The British government has dubbed July 19 "Freedom Day", ending over a year of coronavirus lockdown restrictions for its fully vaccinated citizens. British tourists will no longer have to quarantine after returning from Greece.

"Today is Freedom Day for the UK, it's also Freedom Day in a sense for us here, in Corfu, as we start welcoming unmasked British tourists," said George Likavgis, a tourism consultant who works with local businesses.

"It is what we have been waiting for since the start of the season ... what is going to drive the tourism flow of Corfu until the end of October at least," he said.

Passengers on Monday's flight were elated.

"(I've) been waiting ages," said a visitor who gave her name as Annette. "Can't wait to have a holiday, sit on the beach, swim in the sea. Hot weather - brilliant," she said.

A fellow passenger, Steve Payne, said: "It's still a little bit risky, but we have been in lockdown for so long now I think many of us need a break."

Britain is Greece's biggest tourism market alongside Germany and Britons make up some 40 percent of Corfu's market. Nevertheless, the island's travel agents' association said bookings from the UK remained low for the moment and flights arriving over the last few days were just 30% full.

As the pandemic brought global travel to a standstill in 2020, Greece suffered its worst year on record and is now pinning its hopes of a recovery on a strong summer season.

The sector accounts for a fifth of the economy and a fifth of jobs.

Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said this year's season was so far better than last.

"This is very, very positive and this is because we are continuing to send a message of vigilance, of ensuring that we take the necessary measures," he said.

But in a sign of the difficulties ahead, a local outbreak on the famed party island of Mykonos forced authorities on Saturday to imposed a week-long nighttime curfew and ban on music, forcing some tourists to cancel their holidays.

Last week, authorities also restricted indoor dining to vaccinated customers, with new infections on the rise in recent weeks due the prevalence of the Delta variant.

(Reporting by Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Spyros Skordilis; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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