Greece’s health ministry is seeking police help against hoaxers who tried to scare foreign tourists out of short-term rental apartments in Athens by inventing a bedbug crisis.
A ministry statement said the posters stuck up outside apartment buildings in the city centre, festooned with fake ministry and Athens municipality logos, were “absolutely false”.
The posters, addressed to “Dear visitors” in misspelled English, claimed health authorities had ordered local “private guesthouses” evacuated “to protect the public health of permanent Greek tenants”.
Citing a nonexistent bedbug infestation, they threatened visitors with a €500 fine (£428) for failure to leave their accommodation, and politely wished them a pleasant stay in Greece.
In addition to a cost of living crisis, Athens and other parts of Greece face housing problems largely caused by the proliferation of short-term rental apartments – mainly for foreign visitors.
That has helped fuel a rise in long-term rental costs for Greek people, many of whom are priced out of residential areas in central Athens. Property values are also increasing, in part because of a “golden visa” program offering residence to foreign property investors.
Tourism is a leading driver of Greece’s economy, accounting for a fifth of its annual output and 2023 is expected to be a record year for arrivals.
The health ministry said that it had asked the police to do whatever was necessary to deal with the hoax. It said that “nobody is allowed to terrorise and misinform the public” on public health issues.
Greece has not recorded any major trouble with the bloodsucking creepy-crawlies that recently caused consternation in France when travellers posted photos and videos purportedly showing the insects on the Paris local transport system, high-speed trains and at Charles de Gaulle airport.
Bedbugs, which had largely disappeared from daily life by the 1950s, have made a resurgence in recent decades and have become increasingly resistant to chemical treatments.
They can be present in mattresses but also in clothes and luggage and come out at night to feed on human blood. They also often cause psychological distress, sleeping issues, anxiety and depression.