Dutch travel firm Sunweb is taking a group of 187 volunteers on an eight-day test vacation to Greece this month to explore how feasible tourism is during the pandemic. Olivia Palamountain reports

After a year of lockdowns, mental anguish and financial insecurity, can you imagine anything better than an all-inclusive holiday to Greece? For some 200 lucky Dutch people, this is exactly what they can expect thanks to an experiment by Netherlands-based travel firm Sunweb.

Aimed at establishing whether tourism and events can be organised safely during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunweb is arranging an eight-day all-inclusive group “isolation vacation” on the island of Rhodes for €399 per person. The group departs on April 12 and the trip will be paid for by participants themselves.

Unsurprisingly, at least 25,000 people have signed up for the government-backed experiment, which will supply 187 tickets for people aged 18-70, awarded manually according to criteria set by the government.

Corina Gouderjaan, 51, told Dutch broadcaster RTL Nieuws why she had applied for a ticket: “First I got corona and got very sick. Then I lost my job. So now what? I’m looking forward to doing absolutely nothing at a resort and recovering from this turbulent year.”

Guests will be chosen by age group but people with high-risk conditions will be excluded, a Sunweb spokeswoman told BBC News. Final choices will be determined by who registered first.

There are also a number of stipulations for people who are signed up for the experiment. The chosen travellers will be tested for Covid-19 before and after (at their own expense) and if anyone develops the virus during the trip, they will have to quarantine at a Greek Covid hotel. Although in this case, costs will be covered by the tour company.Hotel Mitsis Grand Beach ResortGuests will have exclusive use of the Hotel Mitsis Grand Beach Resort but under no circumstances will they be allowed to leave (the beach and local town is off limits). On their return home, they will have to quarantine for up to ten days.

Sunweb says it has drawn up safety guidelines for the entire trip, which have been approved by the Dutch public health agency, the RIVM.

“The Dutch can’t wait to go on holiday abroad again and the industry wants to get going again as well,” Frank van Oostdam of holiday sector association ANVR told RTL Nieuws. “But it has to be done safely and in a coronavirus-proof way. I have total confidence that this initiative will show you can enjoy a carefree holiday with a travel company.”

The Dutch government’s travel advice is that all foreign trips should be avoided, unless essential, until at least the middle of May. In the UK, summer holidays overseas are being described as “extremely unlikely” because of the risk of travellers bringing coronavirus variants back to the UK, according to Dr Mike Tildesley, a scientist on a government advisory body.

The Netherlands has recorded at least 16,536 deaths and 1,246,366 cases of infection during the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The BBC says: “While many people may like to swap a life of lockdown for a week of Greek sunshine, questions have been raised about whether enabling such escapism is responsible or reckless at a time when both the infection rate and hospital admissions in the Netherlands are on the rise.

“But with public pressure mounting to allow summer holidays to go ahead, experiments like this one could help to determine whether there is a Covid-secure way to allow people to take an overseas break during the pandemic.”

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