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Greece tourist beaches under drones’ watchful eye: Is this the norm post-lockdown?

As Southern Europe begins to emerge from lockdown, new rules of tourism take shape, report theguardian.com. On Friday, in what was seen as a crucial test for tourism, the centre-right administration agreed that 515 Greek beaches could resume business on condition that strict rules were adhered to.

At 8am on saturday beach clubs duly opened, without music, alcohol or sports facilities that might encourage social interaction. With each changeover, sunbeds – some chained to canopies to ensure social distancing – were disinfected. In the same spirit, umbrella poles had to be four metres apart, a distance many thought too close for comfort and which was later doubled.

Only 40 people per 1,000 sq metres were permitted on any of the beaches at any one time. And so, in the midst of their first heatwave of the year, thousands of Greeks ventured on to the Athenian Riviera at the weekend to do what beachgoers love to do: swim, lounge and soak up the rays. They were not disappointed.

“Life! Freedom! A breath of fresh air,” enthused Maria, a retired bank worker, relishing the scene with her friend Danae. “Relief,” said Danae, sitting up and raising her arms to the sky. “At long last, a big psychological relief.”

Yet, that freedom is now measured in metres, even if Greece has kept Covid-19 infection and mortality rates low. Maria and Danae lounged on sunbeds at a 10-metre distance from their fellow bathers.

But, behind them Zissimos Zissos, a town hall employee, guided a drone over the beach on a mission to detect congested danger zones, broadcasting the robotic message “We keep our distance, we respect public health”.

“It shocks people, but they do look up and move away,” Zissos smiled, as municipal police and guards wended their way through reed umbrellas, urging beachgoers to respect the rules or risk being fined.

“It’s a venture into the unknown, a different world,” said Giorgos Papanicolaou, the mayor of Glyfada, whose municipality runs the long stretch of public beach south of Athens’ city centre. “But it’s gone better than expected. Children are a bit more difficult to control, but so far there haven’t been any penalties.”

Across the Ionian Sea in Italy, where tourism represents 15% of jobs, reinvigorating the sector is important for kickstarting the economy. With this in mind, the Italian PM, Giuseppe Conte, has promised Italians they will be allowed to go on holiday this summer. Thousands will flock to the country’s coast, renting loungers and umbrellas for the entire season.

Under the post lockdown regulations, beachgoers must pre-book their loungers (which will need to be disinfected between each user) and possibly undergo a temperature test, at the discretion of the beach manager, who can bar anyone with a temperature of more than 37.5C from entering, whilst all under the watchful eye of drones.

People must also maintain a two-metre distance when in bathroom or shower areas. Swimming pools will be closed and it has been advised that sporting activity should be avoided.

“Everyone is watching Greece,” said Stelios Petsas, a government spokesman, announcing that private and public beaches could once again be accessed and enjoyed – just with a lot less abandon than before.

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