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Greece reopens island ferries, cafes in tourism restart

Greece restarted regular ferry services to its islands Monday and cafes and restaurants were also back open for business as the country accelerated efforts to salvage its tourism season.

Travel to the islands had been generally off-limits since a lockdown was imposed in late March to halt the spread of the coronvirus, with only goods suppliers and permanent residents allowed access.

But the country’s low infection rate in the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the government to start the holiday season three weeks earlier than the expected June 15 date, as other Mediterranean countries — including Italy, Spain and Turkey — are grappling with deadlier virus outbreaks.

A woman mops the floor of a tavern being prepared for reopening, in Athens, Saturday, May 23, 2020. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to reopen on Monday, as Greece is gradually lifting quarantine restrictions after the lockdown against the COVID-19 outbreak. (AP PhotoYorgos Karahalis)

Greece has had nearly 2,900 infections and 171 deaths from the virus. Italy has seen nearly 33,000 coronavirus patients die, Spain has had nearly 29,000 dead and Turkey has had 4,340 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Social distancing regulations and passenger limits have been imposed on ferries and at restaurants to ward off new infections.

State-run health services to combat the coronavirus are being expanded to the islands, with intensive care units being placed on five islands: Lesbos, Samos, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Corfu, along with existing ICU facilities on the island of Crete.

People gather near Pnyx as at the background stands the ancient Acropolis hill, with the ruins of the fifth century BC Parthenon temple in Athens, Sunday, May 24, 2020. Greece's long-awaited tourist season will begin on June 15 with the opening of seasonal hotels and the arrival of the first foreign visitors, while international flights will begin heading directly for holiday destinations gradually as of July 1, 2000. (AP PhotoLefteris Pitarakis)

Tourism is a vital part of the Greek economy, directly contributing more than 10% of the country's GDP. More than 34 million visitors traveled to Greece last year, spending 18.2 billion euros ($19.5 billion), according to government data.

Follow AP pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

A man carries chairs at an exterior area of a coffee shop being prepared for reopening, in Athens, on Saturday, May 23, 2020. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to reopen on Monday, as Greece is gradually lifting quarantine restrictions after the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP PhotoYorgos Karahalis)

Employees clean the exterior of a coffee shop as they prepare for reopening, in Athens, on Saturday, May 23, 2020. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to reopen on Monday, as Greece is gradually lifting quarantine restrictions after the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP PhotoYorgos Karahalis)

A turtle passes in front of the ancient Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Greece has entered the third phase of easing lockdown restrictions by reopening ancient sites Monday, along with high schools, shopping malls, and mainland travel.(AP PhotoPetros Giannakouris)

A worker places chairs at a fish restaurant ahead of its reopening in Piraeus, near Athens, Wednesday, May 20, 2020.Next Monday, bars, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve clients on the premises, with patrons limited to 6 per table, except for families with children. Greece is gradually lifting quarantine restrictions after the lockdown against the coronavirus outbreak. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

A company dining next to the sea during a warm day in Piraeus, near Athens on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Public beaches were reopened last weekend amid heatwave temperatures, with strict distancing rules imposed by the government, but crowding did occur on buses from Athens to the nearby coast. Travel to the Greek islands remains broadly restricted due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

A man trains on a lighting column during a warm day in Piraeus, near Athens, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Public beaches were reopened last weekend amid heatwave temperatures, with strict distancing rules imposed by the government, but crowding did occur on buses from Athens to the nearby coast. Travel to the Greek islands remains broadly restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)