Greece plans to lure tourists with vaccine certificates for semi-normal summer

Scientists report no known Covid-19 outbreaks linked to busy beaches

ATHENS, GREECE - MAY 23: Tourists hike around the Acropolis on May 23, 2020 in Athens, Greece. After months of being on lockdown due to the coronavirus, Greece has opened its famed museums and tourist destinations while relaxing restrictions on movement and shopping on the mainland in recent days. (Photo by Byron Smith/Getty Images)
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­The Greek government wants the UK to introduce vaccine certificates to allow inoculated Britons to visit this summer.

Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theohari said that talks were under way between the two nations on the creation of a scheme that would allow for a “semi-normal” summer, with vaccinated people not required to present a negative Covid-19 test before their holiday.

Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed an accord this week to allow unimpeded travel for tourists with vaccine certificates. Under the agreement, Israeli citizens who prove they have received an EU-approved Covid-19 shot do not have to undergo a PCR test nor quarantine on arrival.

Mr Theohari said that Greece hoped to introduce a similar scheme with the UK. About two million tourists visited the Mediterranean country from Britain each year before the pandemic disrupted international travel.

"Hopefully both with the vaccination programmes going forward and the summer limiting the spread of the disease, we can have a semi-normal summer," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "We are in very preliminary discussions in expressing the plans to the government, as well as how this could work."

Mr Theohari said that the potential for inoculated tourists to spread Covid-19 was not as risky as the current scheme of testing before arrival.

“We don’t want to limit travel to those who have been vaccinated but since we are mandating that before travelling someone has to have a negative test result, this is a waste of resources if people are vaccinated [and have] to be tested every time they travel,” he said.

“The need for this testing could be limited by the vaccination certificate. The vaccine certificate is a step forward, not a step backwards.”

Mr Theohari said that Greek’s vaccine certificate programme was digital, with three layers of security.

Denmark and Sweden are committed to introducing vaccine passports to ease international travel.

The tourism sector was buoyed by scientific observations on the spread of Covid-19 on busy beaches.

Prof Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh said that no known Covid-19 outbreaks had been traced to crowded coastal spots.

“Over the summer we were treated to all this on the television news and pictures of crowded beaches and there was an outcry about this,” he told Britain's House of Commons science and technology committee.

“There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches. There's never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach, ever, anywhere in the world, to the best of my knowledge.”

Experts believe the combination of fresh sea air and warm temperatures reduces the spread of the virus. Prof Woolhouse warned of the risk associated with mass gatherings outdoors, such as horse racing, because of "pinch points" at entrances, toilets and food stalls.

ATHENS, GREECE - JUNE 15: Passengers wear protective face masks and gloves as they arrive at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens on June 15, 2020 in Athens, Greece. The country removed most restrictions on travel from EU countries today in an effort to jumpstart its tourist season. Travelers from countries deemed high-risk, like the UK countries, will still face compulsory Covid-19 testing and mandatory quarantine. One week for a negative result; two weeks for a positive result. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
Passengers  at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens last summer. Getty Images

“We do have to understand where the risks are so that we can do as much as possible safely,” he said.

This week, the tourism sector launched its Save Our Summer campaign, pressuring the UK government to allow travel to resume by May.

“Due to the impressive vaccination roll-out in the UK, May is very reasonable for safely opening up the travel sector despite what the doomsayers say,” travel consultant Paul Charles tweeted.

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