GREECE is aiming to welcome tourists from the UK in ten weeks’ time in what would be a “dovetailing” of plans to open up travel between the two countries.
The Greek tourism minister Haris Theocharis praised the British prime minister’s unveiling of a roadmap out of lockdown, saying it provided the clarity for travel plans to finally be made.
He said: “We’ll try to dovetail with the plan that has been announced in the UK, a May 17 date has been announced there and we want to be certain to be ready by then and more generally support [the UK’s] opening.”
Athens has been pushing for vaccine passports to be endorsed by the EU, saying certificates proving the Covid-status of travellers will help accelerate mass tourism.
He added: “The roadmap was a very, very good move by the UK government … planning is a pre-requisite for the travel industry, there are so many things we have missed and this year it seems for many people to be a necessity to go on vacation.”
The Greek politician revealed that technical teams from the UK and Greece were already discussing the practicalities of how vaccine passports would work.
Talks, he said, had so far focused on the issue of authenticity, which authorities would issue the certificate, and whether they should be digital or not.
Once in hand, tourists would bypass the need to self-isolate and have costly Covid-19 tests.
Referring to inevitable queues at test stations, Mr Theocharis said: “And they wouldn’t have to stand in long lines at airports.
“Certificates are just an alternative to negative testing and [the money issue] is also an incentive even if progressively, as we go into the season, we’ll more likely to adopt the cheap and fast rapid tests …. but as I say it’s still a hassle standing in line getting tested .
“With this system, we’d be instituting two lanes in airports as it were. The vaccination lane and the non-vaccination lane which would facilitate travel quite a bit.”
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The UK is one of Greece’s biggest tourist markets with up to four million Brits visiting the nation’s hot spots every year.
“We’ve had positive signs from UK tour operators,” said Theoharis. “We’re talking about a reset.”
Other EU members like France and Germany have yet to warm to the Greek proposal. With the pandemic still raging across the continent Paris and Berlin say this is not the time to discuss restriction-free travel.
There are also fears of vaccination passports discriminating against people who may not have had the opportunity to be inoculated.
Greece has argued that if tourists are to be able to organise holidays this year Brussels must fast track decision-making traditionally bogged down by the bloc’s cumbersome red tape.
Theoharis insisted ‘vaccine passports’ had been misconstrued and said that if people preferred they could always undergo CPR tests.
He said: “They are not in the least discriminatory, there are a number of misconceptions around the certificate, the first being that it would be discriminatory.
"The idea that it breaches privacy laws is also wrong because, if you prefer, you can travel as if you are not vaccinated and always get tested.
"A certificate simply allows somebody to travel without needing to test all the time, in that sense it's hassle free and cost-efficient.
And on the health front there is greater probability a vaccinated person has fewer chances of spreading the disease than someone who is negative at some point of time.”
Unlike the UK, where the government has suggested that Covid certificates could in the future be used to enter pubs, Greece has no plans of introducing the two-tier system domestically.
“We don’t envisage that people who are vaccinated will have privileges within the country,” he added giving the example of visitors having limitless access to museums.
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