Unaffected by the coronavirus, as no cases have been reported on the island to date, but with residents who have shown remarkable dedication to vaccinations, Halki is a “Covid-free paradise” that tourists crave, a fact that has caught the attention of Reuters.
Alekos Sfiriou untangles the line with a news agency spokesman and says he is counting the days until ships bring tourists back to his island, which looks like it has fallen into a lethargic sleep. “Everyone on the island is waiting for tourists,” says the 62-year-old fisherman, squatting under a tree on the beach. “They will eat the fish that I catch.” No Covid cases have been reported from the island of Halki so far, and the only sound that breaks the absolute silence of an April morning is the crowing of a rooster. According to local authorities, all 250 residents of the island are vaccinated against the coronavirus and are awaiting the opening of the tourist season, which is vital for the island’s economy.
The inhabitants of many of the remote and sparsely populated islands of the Aegean Sea, which have a minimal number of medical personnel, have been fully vaccinated. For islands with a population of less than 10,000 people, the Greek authorities have made a special program that provides for the full vaccination of residents until May 15, the day of the official opening of the tourist season in the country, the agency emphasizes.
“Greece’s small island vaccination plan is very ambitious in the first place, as it seeks to make these isolated paradises safe,” said Georgios Hatzimarkos, Governor of the South Aegean Islands.
“The tourist season lasting 6-8 months on the island of Halki helps its inhabitants survive during the winter months,” says Mayor Angelos Fraggakis. “In fact, tourism is as important to us as air,” he added.
And although 2020 was the worst year for tourism in decades, Halki did not remain without tourists last year. Many travelers chose small islands for their summer holidays, assuming that they would have less contact with other people there, which means less chance of infection.
However, this year, as the number of new cases continues to rise, no one can yet predict how the summer season will end. The inhabitants of the island fear that without tourism, the cafes and taverns of Halki will suffer greatly.
The mayor’s father, Georgios Fraggakis, a retired sailor, told reporters that in 74 years the island has never experienced such a difficult period. “We were locked in our homes. We couldn’t even see our children because we weren’t vaccinated, ”he said, referring to his granddaughters, with whom he often walks. “It was unbearable for me. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to see my grandchildren, ”the old sailor complained.
An army unit arrived on the island in March to help with vaccinations. Elderly islanders boarded a small electric golf car, which bounced on cobblestone roads before arriving at the clinic, which has only one doctor.
“In the beginning there were some doubts, – said the nurse Nikos Stogiannis, -“ Then they discussed it with each other and said: Okay, let’s get vaccinated. ”
Georgios Fraggakis believes vaccines are a “gift of fate” for the Halki, noting that the locals tried to keep social distance and wear masks. “If the virus got here, we would have a lot of problems.” After all, most of the inhabitants of the island are elderly people …
Photo: REUTERS / Louise Vradi