Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, Reuters)
With a drop of 8.6% in the GDP and lost revenue of 14 billion Euros in 2020, just from the tourism, Greece is tending to take another shot this summer, aiming at the British, North European and Israeli tourist markets, hoping to start receiving tourists after May 15. Greece is betting on the high percentage of vaccinated people in both U.K. and Israel, as well as the possibility of a European “digital green pass” for vaccinated passengers.
In a interview with CNN, Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis says the EU is “on the cusp” of an agreement on the use of “vaccine certificates” for post-pandemic travel. With this in mind, he stresses summer demand will rely on “clarity” on defining restrictions and efficient “progress” of vaccine rollout.
The whole adult population of the U.K. is expected to have been offered at least one vaccination by the end of July. At the moment the rate stands at approximately 30%. In Israel more than 50% of the population has been vaccinated.
But, in spite of the high hopes for with vaccination rates at 60-70% a county is possible to accomplice that so called “herd immunity”, health specialists warn that for covid-19 in order to be on the safe side, vaccination rate should exceed 90% of the population.[
At the moment Athens is appealing directly to Britons. Those with shots will be spared tests, with or without the European Union’s blessing, Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis has said in interviews with UK media.
Tourism sustains a fifth of Greece’s workforce and economy, hit by a 76% drop in international arrivals last year and 14 billion euros in lost sector revenue. As a result, airlines and tour operators are pushing “sun-and-sea” bookings to Spain, Greece and Portugal in a bid to bring in much-needed cash.
“The trend now is towards what’s likely to be open,” said Toby Kelly, CEO of UK travel agency Trailfinders, pointing to a “massive pickup in demand” to Greek destinations. “Greece has been the big story, with its government totally behind vaccine certificates.” Without waiting for Brussels, Cyprus joined the rush on Thursday, announcing that vaccinated UK tourists could enter from May 1 without testing or quarantine.
Airlines such as easyJet saw outbound bookings from Britain surge last week as the government raised the prospect of a return to quarantine-free summer travel, and the European Union agreed to develop vaccine passports under pressure from tourism-dependent southern countries.
But cooped-up consumers’ getaway plans face reality checks – from unpredictable virus variants to lingering EU divisions over vaccine passports, with France leading resistance from several states over political and discrimination concerns.
Britain’s tentative move towards restoring travel “puts pressure on other countries to do the same, which is good for us”, said Grigoris Tasios of the Greek Hoteliers’ Federation. Greece has eased restrictions for vaccinated Israelis and is discussing a similar arrangement with the UK.
Tourism from Germany, another big travel market lagging the UK on vaccinations, hinges on Berlin dropping quarantines for tested passengers, Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr said this week.
Ursula von der Leyen
EU governments must immediately begin technical work to ensure a COVID-19 vaccination certificate system can be introduced across the 27-member bloc in time for summer, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.
The EU executive aims to present its plans for a “digital green pass” on March 17 and to cooperate with international organisations to ensure that its system also works beyond the European Union.
A system to provide travellers with “vaccination passports” is eagerly awaited by airlines and tourism destinations that have been hammered by the pandemic and want to stage a rebound in the peak summer season.
Such passports, pushed by tourism-reliant southern states like Greece and Spain, would provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, test results for those not yet vaccinated and information on recovery for people who have contracted COVID-19.
“The foundation of such a common approach is trust,” von der Leyen wrote in a letter to EU governments, adding that member states had to start work immediately to ensure systems were ready in time.
As well as a legal framework, the system requires a common technical infrastructure to ensure that authorities in one member state could be sure that certificates issued by another state were reliable, she said.
The Commission is working with member states on a digital infrastructure to allow the certificates to be authenticated and this work could be completed within three months, von der Leyen wrote.
“An EU system can only work if the national systems are in place on time,” she added.
Sweden said on Friday that it aimed to have it its system up and running by summer and that it would be available on smartphones, digital wallets as well as on paper. It will be based on electronic ID, a system most Swedes already have, and use an encryption key so certificates can be verified at border crossings.
While the European Union is working on a “digital green pass” to open up borders, Cyprus and other EU countries are moving ahead independently.
Estonia, Poland and Romania have already removed most or all of the entry restrictions for people who have completed a course of vaccinations.
Without digitization, document checks will quickly become unworkable when travel picks up, IATA warns. Even at 10% of pre-crisis traffic, test paperwork is already creating airport bottlenecks as staff spends 20 minutes with each passenger.
“Without automating these procedures (it’s) going to be very difficult to get everyone away over the summer,” Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye said. “All airports would have queues out the door.”
Even after the EU go-ahead at a Feb. 25 summit, ambivalence among governments like France, Germany and Belgium could hamper vaccine passports’ deployment.
“I would not accept a system that makes access to this or that country conditional on a (vaccine) certificate,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. “Our younger people will not have been vaccinated by the end of June or July.”
Airlines are aware of the sensitivities.
“I think we should not call it a vaccine passport,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said recently. “It’s really a digital health app.”
A government-issued pass with international backing “won’t come out quickly enough for this summer”, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary predicted this week. Instead, Ryanair plans to enable medical certificate uploads to its customer app, in the hope authorities will accept them.
Without faster progress towards an international standard, more governments are likely to go their own way.
THE CASE OF GREECE
According to data from the Daily Telegraph:
Vaccines administered: 921,189 doses (8.59% of population have received a dose)
Cases per 100,000 (7 days): 111.3
There are a number of reasons why Greece is on the British holiday green watchlist. The first is that it has a track record of opening its doors during a pandemic. Last summer Greece was one of the first destinations to reopen to tourism (on June 15) and Greece was a trailblazer when it came to testing arrivals rather than putting them into a mandatory quarantine.
Early in 2021, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the first European leader to call for a vaccine certificate as a means to scrap quarantine and tests for arrivals. Speaking on Bloomberg in February, he said: “People will want to travel, especially during the summer, and it doesn’t make much sense not to facilitate travel – to the extent that we feel comfortable – to welcome people who have been vaccinated.”
“For those who have been vaccinated, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to be able to travel to Greece.” He added that those who have not been vaccinated will need to take tests to enter Greece.
Mitsotakis is already putting his vaccination certificate philosophy into action. Greece has formalised an agreement with Israel whereby vaccinated arrivals can travel between the two countries without quarantine, and Cyprus is reportedly looking to enter this ‘travel bubble’ by April 1. There have been reports this week that Athens is looking into welcoming vaccinated British holidaymakers ‘by May’.
Greece’s own vaccination process is digitised and moving faster than many expected, and the country has a track record of controlling Covid-19 better than other European countries. To date, it has recorded 192,270 cases and 6,534 deaths. Portugal, a country with an equivalent population of just over 10 million, has by comparison recorded 804,956 cases and 16,351 deaths.
Deputy Tourism Minister to have intensive
talks ahead of opening for British tourists
Nicosia.- (GreekNewsOnline, CNA)
Cyprus Deputy Minister for Tourism Savvas Perdios is set to have intensive consultations with travel organizers and airlines in March, following the announcement of the decision of Cyprus to allow the arrival from May 1, of tourists from Britain who will be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The travelers won’t need to have a COVID-19 negative test or to go in quarantine.
In a written statement, Perdios expressed his satisfaction over the great publicity given to Britain on the issue.
“The issue was top story in the largest news networks in the country, highlighting at the same time the fact that our country is among the top five in the world in managing the effects of the pandemic,” he said.
This fact, he added, “improves the prospects for the upcoming tourist season, which will be further strengthened after the intensive consultations that the Ministry will have in March, with all travel organizers”.
He also said that there will be joint consultation with air carriers, with the Ministry of Transport and Hermes Airports.
According to the British daily “Independent”, at present all holidays within and beyond the UK are banned. The government says international travel will not be permitted before 17 May.
Cyprus currently has extremely tight restrictions on the few people – mainly its citizens – legally able to travel from Britain to the island. They must take a test before departure, another on arrival and undergo at least 10 days in quarantine.
The government in Cyprus has already indicated it will loosen restrictions for British holidaymakers from April, requiring only a PCR test in the 72 hours before arrival on the island.
That was the requirement for UK visitors to Cyprus last year, but it is an onerous and expensive obligation.
With inoculated holidaymakers deemed to present a lower risk to the local population, British visitors who have been vaccinated are likely to be particularly attractive to Mediterranean nations that are heavily dependent on tourism.
The Independent is seeking clarity on the proof required of vaccinated visitors.
Since November the UK government has promised to work towards some kind of globally accepted certification, but there no sign of any imminent agreement.
On the travel ban, it says: “The government will determine when international travel should resume, which will be no earlier than 17 May.”