LONDON, England – British tourists heading for Greece face shortages of medicines, gas and other essentials as the country heads towards collapse.
Treasury officials are drawing up contingency plans to fly out plane-loads of cash to help those who get stranded if the Greek banking system collapses.
And holidaymakers should take medication with them in case local pharmacies run out, George Osborne warned yesterday.
In a gloomy statement to MPs, the Chancellor said the country’s financial crisis meant there were ‘greater risks of shortages’.
Restrictions on money going abroad are reported to be having an impact on the availability of medicines in Greece, which imports most of its pharmaceuticals.
Tourists are already being advised to take thousands of euros in cash with them in case cashpoints run dry and shops and restaurants start to refuse card payments.
The warnings will lead to further jitters among tourists planning to head to Greece. One tour operator yesterday said the number of bookings has plummeted in recent weeks, with inquiries running at just a quarter of their normal level.
Noel Josephides, chairman of Greece specialist Sunvil Holidays, said: ‘I don’t think you’re going to see any new bookings for now. Everybody is waiting to see what happens in the next few days.’
David Cameron held crisis talks yesterday with Mr Osborne, Bank of England governor Mark Carney and other ministers on how to limit the impact of the Greek crisis on British firms and citizens.
More than 2,000 British pensioners in Greece who use local bank accounts have been advised to open British accounts in case the Greek authorities freeze local transactions.
Mr Osborne said the Foreign Office was also beefing up its presence in Athens and the islands of Corfu, Crete, Rhodes and Zakynthos, but added that it was ‘unrealistic’ to think officials would be able to help holidaymakers in some of the country’s more far-flung spots.
During the financial crisis in Cyprus in 2013, the Ministry of Defense flew out one million euros to ensure that British service personnel had access to cash.
When asked by Labor MP Gisela Stuart whether the Treasury would be ready to do the same this time if cash machines run dry, Mr Osborne indicated similar plans are being considered, adding: ‘What I should say, without going into too much detail is, we do have a number of contingency plans and we just hope we don’t have to put them into operation.’
Meanwhile, Germany urged Europe to approve a major package of humanitarian aid for Greece. Vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said: ‘The people there need help, and we shouldn’t deny it to them just because we’re not satisfied with the outcome of the referendum.’
But he added that there should be no relaxation of the terms demanded of Greece for bailout funds.