ATHENS - Hoping tourists will come this year, especially in the summer with the COVID-19 pandemic lingering, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would reoffer his idea for a European Union vaccine certificate giving holders priority when entering countries.
Writing in the site Euractiv after initial reports indicated travelers could be barred without vaccination proof - but not to Greece - he said the plan would create a kind of “fast travel lane,” but that those certificates could still be allowed but required to show tests indicating they don’t have the Coronavirus and be tested again.
He said a COVID-19 certificate would simply travel across the 27-member bloc, the United Kingdom having exited and among the hardest-hit areas in the world, a key tourism market for Greece.
He said the proposal would minimize delays for citizens who have been inoculated and “not to divide Europeans into two categories,” after Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told SKAI TV, “Under no circumstance will it become a condition for someone to travel to our country.”
Mitsotakis was due to bring up the issue with other EU leaders on Jan. 21 in an agenda that included talks about the slow roll-out of vaccines that are far short of meeting goals to inoculate 70 percent of the bloc’s population of 382 million people.
“Through the EU wide introduction of an agreed and standardised digital vaccine certificate template we can quickly open up again, reviving tourism and recreation, and allowing our citizens to move freely and without restrictions from country to country,” he said.
“People will rightly ask if this could lead to some kind of curtailment of freedom to travel? No, it will not. We should not confuse a vaccination certificate with a travel passport. Our aim is not to divide Europeans into two categories, those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. Instead we want to create a ‘fast travel lane’ for those with a digitally standardized certificate.”
He said people who weren’t vaccinated should still be allowed to travel under existing health rules, such as obligatory PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing before travel, rapid tests upon arrival and quarantines where appropriate.
“One of the biggest levers we can pull on is linking vaccine certification with an uninhibited – by current existing restrictions – movement of travel. And we can do so at a European Union level,” he said.
Tourism is Greece’s biggest revenue engine, bringing in as much as 18-20 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 165.03 billion euros ($200.3 billion) but it fell off the map in 2020 during the pandemic.
Theoharis earlier said the idea was to test those who have not been vaccinated upon entry to Greece and let those with the certificate pass freely, to avoid “wasting resources,” without clarifying what that meant.
Mitsotakis had asked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to urge the introduction of a coronavirus vaccination certificate that would ease travel between member-states in the bloc, said Politico.
“It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member-states,” he said at the time.