June 29, 2020 / 6:25 PM / 16 days ago

First foreign flight to Greek island carries German COVID-19 'heroes'

KOS, Greece, June 29 (Reuters) - German workers who helped combat the novel coronavirus arrived on the island of Kos on Monday in the first foreign flight to reach a Greek regional airport since the health crisis erupted.

About 180 people - among them medical staff, police officers and supermarket workers - flew from Hanover and will stay for five days on the eastern Aegean island, the birthplace of ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of Medicine.

The trip, organised by TUI, was offered free of charge to workers in Germany to thank them for their contribution during the pandemic. Travellers were selected by German newspaper Bild following a public nomination process.

The passengers, who wore masks as they came down the plane’s staircase, said they were happy to travel to Greece. Dozens later underwent precautionary tests for COVID-19.

“The virus is still there... We have to be careful and we have to follow the rules and we’ll manage it together,” said Stephen, one of the passengers, who works as an officer at the German Chancellery.

Regional airports will start operating officially on July 1.

Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said he hoped the visitors would enjoy a holiday “well deserved for their achievements”.

“The island of Kos, the island of the father of Medicine, received the first airplane form Germany with the 180 corona heroes,” he told Reuters.

Greece, which emerged from a decade-long debt crisis in 2018, relies heavily on tourism for an economic recovery. The sector accounts for about a fifth of its economic output and Germany is one of its main tourism markets.

So far, Greece has managed to contain the spread of the virus to just 3,376 cases, faring better than other European Union countries, mainly due to an early lockdown.

TUI said that in the first week of July it plans 56 flights to Greek destinations, including to Crete and Rhodes. (Additional reporting by Deborah Kyrikosaios in Athens Writing by Renee Maltezou Editing by Peter Graff)

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