(CNN) — Teenage models Lydia-Angel Beach and Charlotte Claussen are seated on Monastiraki Square drinking in the warm Athens sunshine, having just sated their post-casting hunger with a juicy takeout souvlaki from classic kebab joint Thanasis.
London-born Beach, 18, who grew up in Ibiza, and her colleague Claussen, 19, from Hamburg, flew in a few days ago, after Greece’s decision to lift a quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers and those testing negative for Covid-19 from key tourism markets.
“It’s model season, so we’re here for work but also combining it with a vacation,” says Beach. “The weather is amazing, the people are really welcoming and the food is really good. Everyone speaks English, so it’s easy to get around.”
There aren’t many other tourists currently enjoying what would be the start of peak season in Athens, but there soon could be.
As of April 19, residents of the European Union, the United States, the UK, Israel, Serbia and the UAE who have been inoculated or present a negative PCR test up to 72 hours prior to arrival are free to enter Greece and must abide by domestic restrictions on movement.
The country has promised to open to all other countries on the same terms, as of May 15.
The move has so far been unmatched by any other major tourist destination in Europe — where new waves of Covid-19 are currently prompting heavy lockdowns. And even for Greece they represent a bold step at a time when restrictions for locals are still in place.
A tiny minority in Greece, including some opposition politicians, see it as an unnecessary gamble, risking a further rise in Covid cases, which reached a new peak earlier in April. It comes at a time when healthcare services are already stretched.
But in a country where 20% of national income depends on cash from visitors and the effects of a decade-long financial crisis are still being felt, most people see it as a vital step out of a financial hole, insisting that vaccines and testing will help weather any virus resurgence.
A good place to travel
Greece is opening up to vaccinated or negative-testing tourists.
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
For the first visitors, the easing of restrictions in Greece is already proving a welcome contrast to tighter controls at home.
“In Germany, Covid-19 restrictions are much stricter,” says Claussen. “Things are much more relaxed here. It’s a good place to travel to right now and Greece really needs tourists,” she says.
She and Beach are thrilled to learn that restaurants and bars, which have remained closed for much of the past year but can provide delivery and takeout, are due to open for outdoor dining on May 3.
“It will be nice to be able to go out for a cold beer after working a 12-hour day,” says Claussen.
For Greek citizens, the official messaging around the country’s opening up is mixed. While the government has taken to the international stage to throw doors open wide and