• There have been more than 4.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide.
  • Some European countries are preparing to reopen beaches, seaside cafes and restaurants.
  • Most beach resorts have imposed strict social distancing rules.
  • With many international borders closed, countries reliant on tourism may have to depend on local visitors this year.

As parts of Europe take tentative steps out of lockdown, a trip to the beach now involves a few additional extras: face masks, disinfectant and social distancing.

Countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain are heavily reliant on tourism. But during the coronavirus pandemic, many beaches have been off-limits. With summer approaching, local trippers are returning to some of Europe’s sandy hotspots – but much has changed.

The sands of Greece

A worker measures the distance between umbrellas, a day before the official opening of beaches to the public following the easing of measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Umbrellas are set apart to keep beachgoers in Greece socially distanced.
Image: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Not least in Greece, where more than 500 beaches have reopened as temperatures look set to soar. In place of the crowded sands that greeted visitors before the lockdown, no more than 40 people per 1,000 square metres are now permitted on the beach, with umbrella poles set four metres apart, Reuters reports.

A worker rakes an empty beach, a day before the official opening of beaches to the public following the easing of measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece, May 15, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A drone’s view of an Athens beach shows socially distanced sunbathing spots.
Image: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

On beaches near Athens, drones warn beachgoers if they are contravening social distancing rules.

“We keep our distance, we respect public health,” the remote-controlled patrols repeat as they disperse any groups congregating on the sands, according to The Guardian.

A man wearing a face mask disinfects a sunbed during the official reopening of beaches to the public following the easing of measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens, Greece, May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
Sun loungers are disinfected after each use as Athens’ beaches reopen after lockdown.
Image: REUTERS/Costas Baltas

In addition to the smells of sea, salt, and sand, visitors to Athens’ beaches will now encounter disinfectant. Attendants spray sun-beds after each customer has finished using them. And on the island of Santorini, protective screens around beach loungers shield sunbathers from other beachgoers.

A plexiglas construction is set around an umbrella and sunbeds as a precaution against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the beach of Perissa on the island of Santorini, Greece, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Image: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Greece has recorded more than 2,800 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - considerably fewer than many of its neighbours.


Beach life in Italy

Italy is among the European nations hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 225,000 reported cases, and more than 32,000 deaths. The country is cautiously easing lockdown measures.

People wearing face masks walk along the beach as Italy begins to ease some of the restrictions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini
People wearing face masks walk along the beach in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy.
Image: REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

Like Greece, Italy’s beaches are opening with social distancing rules in place. Although surfers are returning to the waves, visitors wearing face masks are not uncommon.

The beachfront town of Porto Cesareo in Italy’s Puglia region has beach umbrellas set 1.5 metres apart, with ropes forming a security cordon between holiday-makers.

People wearing face masks walk along the beach as Italy begins to ease some of the restrictions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Castiglione della Pescaia, Italy May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini
Italy’s beaches are reopening with social distancing rules in place.
Image: REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

Restrictions on international travel have all but dried up the flow of overseas visitors to Italian beach resorts. This year, they may have to rely on domestic visitors.

Italy’s tourism and culture minister Dario Franceschini recently announced a package of measures to help the country’s hard-hit tourism industry, including financial support for seasonal employees, and tax relief for firms in the industry.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Spanish resorts

A waiter wearing a protective mask adjusts tables on a terrace of a restaurant at Malvarrosa beach, as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase one, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Valencia, Spain May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Mask-wearing waiters in Valencia are preparing for diners to return.
Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Spain has also been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 230,000 confirmed cases. In permitted areas, bars and restaurants can now open their terraces, but are restricted to no more than 50% occupancy. Hotels and other tourist accommodation can reopen, provided visitors don’t use common areas.

A sign that reads
Following a temporary ban, bathers in Spain can now take to the water for individual exercise.
Image: REUTERS/Enrique Calvo

The country plans to lift lockdown restrictions fully by the end of June. Ahead of that date, recreational pools and beaches have been permitted to resume activity under certain conditions. Swimming pools can open to the public, but their use is by appointment only, at a maximum capacity of 30%, and they must be cleaned three times a day.

Beach users must also observe social distancing, and sports, professional and recreational activities are all allowed, as long as they can be undertaken individually and without physical contact.

Number of enterprises in tourism industries, 2017
Number of enterprises in tourism industries, 2017
Image: Eurostat

Tourism contributed more than €177 billion to Spain’s GDP in 2018, and the country’s beaches are a magnet for holiday-makers from other parts of Europe and beyond.

An idling economy due to lockdown restrictions leaves the more than 300,000 enterprises in Spain’s tourism industry facing an uncertain future. A similar situation exists in other European countries, including Italy – which has more than 350,000 tourist enterprises – and Greece.


In easing COVID-19 restrictions, these countries are weighing up the health costs of opening up too quickly against the economic costs of moving too slowly. With international borders still closed, these nations may have to settle for tourists from their own country this year. For these, and many other parts of the global economy, there are tough times ahead.