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Greece Aiming to Reopen Tourism on May 14, Theoharis Tells Politico

ATHENS – Greece is pinning its hopes on an early May 14 opening for tourism this year, Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis said in an interview with the online magazine "Politico.eu" released on Monday, while its strategy for bringing back tourists hinges on the country's numerous small islands.

Part of this strategy, the magazine reported, are priority coronavirus vaccinations for residents of small islands and islets "so those locations can be marketed as COVID-free" but also for practical reasons as "it would make little sense to send medical teams back and forth to administer doses to different population groups over time."

"Fournoi, Chalki, Symi, Ereikousa and dozens of other tiny islets with fewer than 1,000 residents in the Aegean and Ionian seas have been targeted by the authorities. Kastellorizo, the country's most remote island, located on the easternmost edge of the Dodecanese, was the first place in Greece to have its entire adult population vaccinated — all 500 of them," the article said.

“The only thing one can say with certainty is that this year will be better than 2020,” Theoharis told POLITICO in an interview. “We managed last year, under much more difficult circumstances, to open and keep the necessary balance. This summer, with more tools and data at our disposal and with the confidence of the vaccination programme, we will be able to achieve something much better.”

Regarding the idea for an EU-wide certificate for those vaccinated against Covid-19, first put forward by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in January and adopted by the European Commission for travel in the EU and beyond in the form of a "Digital Green Certificate", Theoharis said that the process is moving too slowly.

“If Europe continues too move slowly, it risks losing a great opportunity to show its global leadership,” he said. “We have to move as fast as possible. I don't think it's a technical issue, there should be political will from all the countries for this to happen as soon as possible.”

However, Theoharis said the European proposal is compatible with the Greek plan.

“It answers all queries one can have, it doesn't exclude anyone: PCR tests, vaccines or antibodies are included. It is done carefully so that it doesn't raise any privacy concerns. Its multiple options allow someone who doesn't want to say he has been vaccinated to get a PCR test. It secures one of the main freedoms of the European Union, free movement,” the minister said.

But once travel can restart, which Greece hopes will be as soon as May 14 — “we are relatively certain … that this date is safe, having the good weather and the vaccination progress as allies,” Theoharis said — it won't be business as usual.

Hotels and tourism businesses will have to follow strict hygiene rules and maintain social distancing, and staff will have to be tested twice a month.

It is not clear when and under which conditions nightclubs and bars will reopen, but Theoharis said that last year “the areas where parties were taking place were those that created all the trouble.”

The government says that those working in the tourism sector will be given priority when it comes to vaccination, after the inoculation of vulnerable groups is completed. However, there is no date set for that to begin.

Theoharis also dismissed criticism that tourism was to blame for the country's second wave last autumn.

“Greek experts estimate the impact of tourism in spreading the virus at 3 percent and figures show that we didn't have the second wave in the middle of the summer, but a week later than the Northern European countries,” he said. “After all, even countries like Israel that haven't opened for tourism had the second wave in the middle of the summer.”

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