Is it safe to travel to Greece in 2019?

Health experts warn of West Nile virus outbreak


The UK government has issued a series of new travel warnings for British citizens heading to Greece, and is advising taking precautions against mosquito bites amid a surge in cases of West Nile virus.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) last week listed mosquito bites as a potential hazard for holidaymakers headed to Greece following an unprecedented outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease last year.

Danai Pervanidou, head of the office for vector-borne diseases at Keelpno, the national organisation for public health based in Athens, said there have been “enough cases to know that this is now a public health issue”, adding that the organisation is “recommending that everyone takes personal protective measures such as wearing long sleeves, avoiding places with stagnant water and using mosquito nets and repellent”.

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The Guardian reports that 316 people were infected with the virus in Greece last year, resulting in the death of 50 people.

“Normally those infected with the virus will exhibit no symptoms,” the paper says. “While about 20% experience mild, flu-like ailments including fever, headaches and general aches, only 1% will go on to develop a serious illness.”

However, last year, 243 displayed symptoms of neuro-invasive disease such as encephalitis, meningitis and acute paralysis.

The Daily Express reports that Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Serbia have also seen an increase in cases of West Nile virus, while health chiefs in Spain have confirmed three cases there too.

The news comes as another blow to the Greek tourism industry following a wave of deadly wildfires near Athens last year. The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist hotspots, attracting more than 27 million visitors in 2017. However, in the wake of the fires, the FCO has upped its warnings on visiting the country. Here’s what you need to know about holidaying there:


The FCO warns that, localised or severe weather extremes, including wildfires, can affect areas of Greece over the extended summer period.

The ministry says that forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable, and that travellers should “take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas”, “make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, and don’t light barbecues”.

It adds that causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Greece even if unintentional.

Last year’s fires were some of the worst on record, killing more than 100 people near Athens, with hundreds more displaced.

Other risks in Greece

“Theft of passports, wallets and handbags are common on the metro and in crowded tourist places, particularly in central Athens,” the FCO says.

Car thefts are also a potential risk. The department advises holidaymakers to keep valuables out of sight in vehicles and to keep cars locked.

Terrorism is not considered a problem in Greece. The country has suffered a limited number of small-scale assassination attempts on public officials and journalists by anarchist and revolutionary groups, but these are not viewed as a threat to the wider public, the DOS says.

Nevertheless, the site recommends that visitors “exercise vigilance” around “tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities”.

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