Greece urges EU to ‘act faster’ on vaccine passports

Greece’s Tourism Minister called on EU leaders to ‘act faster’ to adopt vaccination certificates that could allow mass travel to resume, as Athens seeks to fix battered holiday industry by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Looking at the reaction of some countries to the vaccination certificate proposals, I think there is a lot of myopia. There is still a long way to go to prepare ourselves, ”Minister Harry Theocharis told the Financial Times.

“Some countries are very concerned now,” he said, as northern European countries in particular were unwilling to look ahead and plan for an economic recovery this summer. “We need to act faster.”

The introduction of vaccination passports that could allow leisure and business travelers to move between countries after being vaccinated will be discussed at the EU summit which begins on Thursday.

Member states led by Greece pitched the idea last month, but the bloc is divided and diplomats see early adoption of the proposed system unlikely, due to fears of a discriminatory two-way system. levels of citizens’ travel rights.

Tourism is vital for Greece, accounting for around a fifth of GDP and employment, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation. Despite a partial reopening last summer, restrictions on international travel wiped out 4% of Greece’s GDP, according to UN estimates, as revenues from hotels and accommodation fell by two-thirds.

Harry Theocharis, Greece’s tourism minister, said plans for safe travel had to be agreed soon, as people needed to know now whether summer vacation would be possible this year © Constantina Peppa / Reuters

The Greek sector is almost entirely dependent on international tourism with a national population too small and still too financially constrained following the country’s debt crisis in 2008 to compensate for the decline in foreign visitors.

Germans make up the largest number of international tourists to Greece, accounting for around 4.4 million visits in 2018, according to the OECD. Visitors from the UK, which is no longer a member of the EU, come second.

Athens was particularly aggressive in the pursuit vaccination passports to allow vacationers to return. It has found support from member states with large tourism sectors or concerns about travel from neighboring countries with higher infection rates, but countries like Germany and France are still not convinced.

Passenger locator forms, designed as a universally recognized means of tracing contacts across the block, have been the subject of discussion for several months but have yet to materialize.

One fear is that vaccine passports would fuel public anger or even legal action from those who are prevented from traveling simply because they have not yet reached their turn in the immunization queue.

Theocharis said plans for safe travel needed to be agreed quickly, as people needed to know now whether summer vacation would be possible this year.

He criticized the UK government for warning its citizens against international holidays despite the UK’s success with its rapid vaccination deployment.

“I don’t understand this kind of message. People in the UK were able to take vacations. . . I don’t see how we can take a step back now that we have more tools in our arsenal.

Greece signed an agreement with Israel this month to allow people who had been vaccinated to travel between the two countries without needing to show a negative viral result. Kyriakos Mitsotak is the Greek Prime Minister, hailed it as “a test of what we can do with other countries”.

Theocharis said talks for a similar deal with the UK are underway, although Britain does not issue proof of vaccination among its population. Greeks receive a digital certificate attesting that they have been vaccinated.

He also insisted that vaccinations would not be mandatory for travel and would only mean that those who had been vaccinated would not have to take a Covid-19 test to enter the country.

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