Greek PM hopes refurbished airports become 'bridges' for freer post-COVID summer

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FILE PHOTO: Tourism season officially opens in Greece

ATHENS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday more than a dozen Greek airports renovated by a German-led consortium could serve as "bridges" for a summer of greater freedom after months of lockdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

He was speaking at the opening of the refurbished airport of Thessaloniki, the final leg of a 440 million euro investment undertaken by a consortium led by German airport operator Fraport.

Concluding a project which started in 2017, it has now upgraded 14 Greek airports, including those on the popular holiday islands of Santorini, Corfu and Rhodes.

"As we carefully walk towards the exit of the COVID-19 health crisis, these airports will become our national bridges for a freer and more efficient summer, as we continue to build a wall of immunity with our vaccine rollout," Mitsotakis said.

The expanded airport at Thessaloniki, which cost 100 million euros, will have twice as many departure gates, many more retail facilities and can accommodate about 10 million people a year. It handled 6.9 million in 2019, before the pandemic struck.

"The 14 new and upgraded airports, which were delivered three months ahead of the contractual deadline, mark the beginning of a new era both for tourism and for the 14 local communities," Fraport Greece Chief Executive officer Alexander Zinell said.

Tourism accounts for a fifth of Greece's economy and Mitsotakis' conservative government is desperate to avoid another lost summer after months of tackling a second wave of the pandemic which pushed hospitals to their limits.

On May 14 Greece lifted quarantine rules for non-EU visitors who have been vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.

Authorities aim to have immunised all adults on the Greek islands by July as they trie to reassure tourists that they are safe destinations.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Gareth Jones)